Malacañang: No risk in POGO hubs near military camps

Robie de Guzman   •   August 16, 2019   •   701

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang believes there is nothing wrong with the location of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) hubs near military camps following concerns about its possible risk to national security.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Chinese-dominated POGO hubs’ will be better protected if these are near military installations.

“Military camps? Eh di lalong magaling kung military camps dahil binabantayan sila ng military for their protection,” he told reporters in an interview.

However, Panelo said he would defer to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperson to assess any security issue being posed by foreign operated online gaming operations.

“The Palace will always defer to the National Security Adviser on matters of security in the country,” he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for his part, said that providing protection to POGO hubs by the military is a “very valid suggestion,” but this is not part of their mandate.

However, he assured they are ready to help when their assistance is requested.

“That’s a very valid suggestion. But it is not the job of the military to watch or protect the POGO workers,” Lorenzana said.

“That is the job of the Bureau of Immigration, Police, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. If our assistance is requested, we will assist,” he added.

Esperon has yet to issue any comment on the issue as of this posting.

Several lawmakers earlier raised a concern about Chinese-dominated POGO hubs near military camps and other vital installations, saying these pose risk to the country’s security.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) earlier defended its decision to situate POGO hubs and its foreign workers in areas near military camps for their security and rights protection.

Pagcor chairperson and chief executive officer Andrea Domingo said hubs for online casinos and self-contained communities were mainly created to provide basic needs and ensure the safety of foreign workers employed in POGO hubs. She added that POGO workers are free to go wherever they want to.

Domingo’s statement came after the Embassy of China in the Philippines raised concern over the creation of self-contained communities as this might violate Chinese workers’ liberties.

“So, if their liberties are not restricted and according to them, ginagawa nga nila iyon to protect them, so, kung ganoon naman ang essence noong paglagay sa kanilang lugar, I don’t think that will be a violation,” Panelo said. (with details from Rosalie Coz)

DILG, LGUs urged to revoke business permits of POGOs evading tax fees

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva on Monday called on the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units (LGU) to support the Finance department’s move to shut down Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) that are not complying with the country’s tax laws.

In a statement, Villanueva said the DILG should help in this measure by ordering LGUs to revoke business permits of POGOs that are evading their tax liabilities.

The DOF over the weekend ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to close down and file charges against POGOS including their service providers that fail or refuse to settle the tax liabilities of their foreign workers.

READ: PH gov’t to close down tax-evading POGOs

The order was issued following reports of slow collection of withholding income taxes from select POGOs with tax liabilities amounting to P21.62 billion despite the issuance of 130 letter-notices to these firms.

“We do not owe anything to these errant POGOs who have the gall to refuse the correct payment of taxes of their workers. We expect nothing less than the immediate shut down of these firms,” Villanueva said.

“It is high time that our government acts with dispatch to make these firms comply with our country’s laws. We call on the interior department to support the Department of Finance by asking all local government units to revoke business permits of POGOs who do not comply with our tax laws,” he added.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) earlier assured support for the Finance department’s move to close down errant POGOs.

“We follow the law. BIR has the legal authority to close down establishments who evade taxes. Pagcor supports this move. We are issuing a letter to all POGO operators and service providers to this effect,” Pagcor Chairman Andrea Domingo said in a statement.

Villanueva also urged the DILG to assist the BIR in implementing the order by asking the police to shutter tax-evading online gaming operators the way it closed down operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) last month.

It can be recalled that police closed down PCSO outlets in July after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the immediate suspension of all its gaming operations over the supposed corruption in the agency.

The president later lifted the suspension on lotto and small-town lottery operations but with certain conditions.

Villanueva also pointed out that POGOs only provide “minimal benefits” to the country compared to its effects to Filipino locals and businesses, including the increase of rental rates for residential or office spaces near POGO hubs.

“Hindi biro ang pagsulpot ng sektor na ito at ang mga kaakibat na problemang dala dala nito tulad ng paglikha ng tinatawag na real estate bubble at pagtaas ng krimen sangkot ang mga dayuhan,” Villanueva said.

“Sa ating pananaw, hindi po sapat ang kanilang binabayaran na buwis para payagan itong mamayagpag,” he added.

He also raised concern over the spiking number of crimes involving foreign nationals, citing a recent raid in Pasig City where 277 Chinese nationals were apprehended.

READ: BI arrests close to 300 Chinese nationals in Pasig City

“Dumadayo na rin po sa ating bayan ang mga kriminal na tumatakas sa kanilang pananagutan sa batas ng China, tulad na lamang ng nakaraang raid sa isang opisina sa Pasig noong nakalipas na lingo,” he said.

“Maging ang gobyerno ng China po ay hinihiling na ipagbawal na ang pagpapatakbo ng mga POGO mula sa ating pamahalaan. Maliit lang po ang benepisyo natin sa sektor na ito, at mas malaki pa ang dulot na abala sa atin nito,” he added.

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, said a public inquiry into POGOs will be conducted where they will discuss all the facts and effects it has brought to the country.

Palace: Lorenzana to probe AFP-third telco deal

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 16, 2019

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will investigate the deal between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and third telco firm, Dito Telecommunity Corp.

This was after the third telco was allowed to build their facilities near the military bases of the country.

According to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Lorenzana was not aware of the said deal.

“The DND Secretary texted me about it, and said he doesn’t know anything about it,” he said.

Panelo also said Lorenzana will investigate the matter and that the government can terminate the said deal if there is a proven security threat in the country.

“He’s going to investigate and ask the concern people involved in the deal so we’ll wait for his findings,” he said.—AAC (with reports from Rosalie Coz)

PH gov’t to close down tax-evading POGOs

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) has ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to close down and file charges against Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) including their service providers that fail or refuse to settle the tax liabilities of their foreign workers.

In a statement, the DOF said its chief, Carlos Dominguez III, issued the order following reports of slow collection of withholding income taxes from select POGOs with tax liabilities amounting to P21.62 billion despite the issuance of 130 letter-notices to these firms.

“Why don’t we start closing them down so they will answer these assessments. Those who don’t pay or respond to your assessments, clamp them down” Dominguez said during an interagency meeting held last Sept. 13.

During the meeting, the BIR reported that it only collected P1.4 billion in withholding taxes from POGOs from January to August this year. This is 242 percent higher than the taxes collected in 2018, which was P579 million, and in 2017 which amounted to P175 million.

An inter-agency body earlier said there were around 138,000 foreign nationals working for 58 offshore gaming firms licensed to operate in the Philippines.

Dominguez said the BIR should ensure that the payment of the tax liabilities should account for each foreign worker in POGOs and to reject any “lump sum” offer or any other arrangement in paying their tax arrears.

“The collection should be per individual,” Finance chief told BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay and deputy commissioner Arnel Guballa.

“You force the issue and you bring them to court. I mean, close them down,” he added.

The BIR said it has coordinated with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for the implementation of the order.

In August, the Philippine government has started implementing strict measures for POGOs and suspended the acceptance of new applications due to some concerns.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said POGOs will continue to be allowed to operate in the Philippines primarily to provide employment to Filipinos.

However, he warned online gaming operators they will be closed down if they fail to remit right taxes.

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