MANILA, Philippines — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to immediately collect P1.36 billion that Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) owes the government.
According to a recent audit report from the Commission on Audit (COA), this is the total outstanding debt of 15 POGOs in the country.
“Bakit hinayaang umabot sa ganitong kalaki ang utang ng POGO? PAGCOR needs to throw its weight and go after them. Bilyon na pala ang utang, ang dami pang krimen na pinasok sa Pilipinas. POGOs, magbayad na at umalis na kayong lahat sa Pilipinas,” Hontiveros said.
According to PAGCOR’s Legal Department, of the 15 delinquent POGOs, three were still operating as of January 12, 2021; eight had their licenses canceled, three were under review, and one was suspended.
“Kapag nagbayad na, dapat huwag na bigyan pa ng lisensya. Kung ang mga Pilipino nga na hindi makapagbayad ng upa, sinisingil kaagad. Samantalang ang POGOs, sobra-sobrang palugit ang ibinibigay? When POGOs first entered the country, we were promised investment and economic activity, but what we got was a myriad of crimes,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, who led the Senate investigation on the rise of POGO-related prostitution, said that the National Capital Region Police Office recently nabbed two Chinese POGO employees who abducted two other Chinese nationals. The senator stressed that until now, even in the middle of the pandemic, POGO-related crimes continue.
“Sa gitna ng striktong quarantine sa Metro Manila, nagawa pa nilang mangidnap? Kung lumuwag luwag ang travel restrictions, sigurado business as usual din ang kanilang mga krimen. If we don’t kick POGOs out, chances are these crimes will only multiply,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, along with Sen. Frank Drilon and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, also voted no to the POGO tax bill approved in the Senate last June. The senator had disagreed with the preferential tax treatment given to POGOs in the bill because of the opacity and murkiness of the industry.
“PAGCOR should not condone this P1.36B debt. I’ve repeatedly called on the government to get rid of POGOs because the social cost of their operations outweigh the shallow gains. Sakit sila sa ulo na hindi kailanman magagamot. We didn’t need POGOs then and we surely don’t need them now,” Hontiveros concluded.