Senate scrutinizes regulations on POGO ops amid rise of Chinese prostitution dens in Phl

Maris Federez   •   January 29, 2020   •   643

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is taking on the proposal that seeks to suspend the operation of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the country.

The move is due to an increase in Chinese prostitution dens involving POGO employees.

In the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality hearing on Tuesday (Jan. 28), Senator Risa Hontiveros presented several screenshots of an alleged group chat in a messaging app, WeChat, where the transaction is taking place.

Hontiveros said girls with a corresponding package price for their “services” are being offered to clients.

The lady senator also presented alias Carina, a minor who had become a victim of human trafficking.

Alias Carmina claims that she was made to believe that she would be working as a massage therapist. She found out later that her being a massage therapist also comes with what she said as “extra service”.

“Ang boss ko doon ay isang Chinese national at asawa niyang Filipina. Kinuhanan ako ng picture na sa pagkakaalam ko ay in-upload sa mga chat sa internet,” alias Carina said.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said they have noticed the mushrooming number of Chinese prostitution dens since the establishment of POGO in the country, with POGO employees as clients.

The Makati City Police also said that some of the workers in the prostitution dens that they had rescued did not have working visas and were just holding tourist visas.

“‘Yung mga passport nila, at saka ‘yung mga visas, hawak-hawak ng mga maintainers. Hindi nila binibigay. ‘Yun ‘yung karamihang problema namin diyan, ma’am,” said PMaj. Gideon Ines, chief of the Makati City Police Criminal Investigation Unit.

Hontiveros said that they will also check how far the extent of the Chinese prostitution industry in the country has gone.

The Makati City Police called on business establishment owners to coordinate with authorities for the arrest of operators of Chinese prostitution dens in the city.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said that they will launch an investigation on the reported Chinese prostitution that has affected the POGO industry in the country.

“We will have that investigated, if that is true then we will have to do something about it, like stopping prostitution and arresting those who are involved in it,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sec. Salvador Panelo. — (from the report of Harlene Delgado) /mbmf

Senate probe into PAGCOR’s alleged lobby for POGO’s quarantine exception sought

Robie de Guzman   •   May 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros are calling on their fellow lawmakers to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation into the alleged lobbying of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to exclude Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the COVID-19 quarantine.

In a joint statement, Pangilinan and Hontiveros said they have recently filed Senate Resolution 396 after PAGCOR allowed POGOs to resume partial operations, subject to strict conditions, purportedly to boost government revenues amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The senators said that the gaming regulator’s “actuations in lobbying for an exception in favor of the POGO industry threaten to unduly put the health and well-being of the Filipino people at risk by undermining the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).”

“Even going by the official estimate, allowing more than 50,000 workers in the online gambling industry to return to work represents a substantial exception to the ECQ rules,” they said.

PAGCOR chairman Andrea Domingo earlier argued that licensed POGOs should be allowed to resume operations as these are part of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.

BPOs have been allowed to operate amid the quarantine period.

Domingo earlier assured that before POGOs were allowed to resume partial operations, they would have to meet safety and health requirements.

But Pangilinan and Hontiveros both expressed apprehension that the partial reopening of POGO operations could “reverse the efforts put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19”as there is no assurance that POGOS will follow the Department of Health’s guidelines on physical distancing, wearing of masks, and frequent handwashing and sanitation.”

The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) have also rejected that POGOs are part of the BPO industry, citing four key differences:

  • BPO companies are registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) or the Board of Investments, while POGOs are registered with PAGCOR,
  • the offshoring nature of POGOs are allegedly because they are unable to practice their betting or gambling functions in their respective shores,
  • IT-enabled jobs BPO companies create are of much higher value, requiring a range of technical, domain, and soft skills, and
  • BPOs come to the Philippines to leverage off the country’s human capital, like strong English and technical skills, customer service orientation, malasakit, and ability to adapt to foreign cultures. On the other hand, majority of POGO staffing comes from foreign labor brought into the country to support their operations.

According to IBPAP, POGOs are not part of the annual IT-BPO Headcount and Revenue report, which in 2019 ended with 1.3 million direct employees and $26.3 billion in revenues, the senators said.

PAGCOR also argued that revenues from POGO operations can be a significant source of funds for the government’s COVID-19 response.

It also said that operators are ordered to pay all tax obligations up to March 2020 before they will be allowed to resume operations and only registered workers cleared in COVID-19 rapid tests to report back to work.

But Hontiveros and Pangilinan pointed out that during a Senate hearing in February 2020,

the Bureau of Internal Revenue revealed that POGOs failed to pay the government an estimated P50 billion in withholding and franchise taxes in 2019.

The senators said the uncollected taxes of POGOs could be a source of additional government funds for COVID-19 response.

“[But these] taxes need to be collected regardless of the industry’s status of operations during the community quarantine,” they said.

The senators also pointed out that the resumption of POGO operations will have minimal impact on the country’s economy.

They cited records from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) showing that the industry only accounts for 0.04% of the domestic economy.

Earlier this week, a group of House lawmakers filed a bill seeking to have POGOs declared illegal by prohibiting the operations of any offshore gaming by any means or device within Philippine territory.

Malacañang denies ‘favoritism’ claims in partial resumption of POGO ops

Marje Pelayo   •   May 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The national government has recently allowed partial resumption of operations for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the country despite the prevailing enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Malacañang has been accused of favoritism over its decision but Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector has long been allowed to partially operate and that covers the POGO industry. 

He added that the decision as to which industry will be allowed partial opening depends on the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) especially when POGOs do not have liabilities such as tax issues to settle.

Wala pong favoritism diyan, [There is no favoritism here,]” Roque said.

“On the contrary, the equal protection clause that provides that all those similarly situated must be treated alike so dahil isang klase ng BPO ang POGO, kinakailangan mapabuksan din sila [and so, since POGO is a type of BPO, they should be allowed to open] be it ECQ or GCQ,” he added.

But the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) countered this claim, saying POGOs cannot be considered as part of the BPO sector.

“The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) would like to have it clarified that as far as the IT-BPM industry is concerned, Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs, as they are commonly called, cannot be considered as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO),” said IBPAP president and CEO Rey Untal on Saturday..

Untal said though BPOs and POGOs may have similarity in the nature of operation which is offshore, he said POGOs primarily do so because they are unable to practice their gambling functions in their own shores.

“BPOs come to the Philippines to leverage off our human capital, i.e. our strong English and technical skills, customer service orientation, malasakit, and ability to adapt to foreign cultures,” Untal said.

“This, in turn, has directly benefited millions of Filipinos by providing them with better employment opportunities throughout the years,” he added.

IBPAP also stressed that BPO operations are regulated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) while POGOs are only monitored by PAGCOR.

Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, for his part, expressed support for the resumption of POGOs as they are deemed essential as a source of additional funding to support the national government response amid the COVID-19 crisis. MNP (with reports from Rosalie Coz)

PH gov’t allows POGO partial operations amid community quarantine

Robie de Guzman   •   May 1, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The government has allowed the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to resume partial operations amid the enforcement of community quarantine against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said POGOs have been allowed to partially reopen, subject to stringent conditions.

PAGCOR said that prior to the resumption of operations, POGOs and their service providers are ordered to strictly adhere to the following pre-requisites:

  • Updating and settlement of all their tax liabilities, as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue;
  • Updating of their payments for any regulatory fee, license fee, performance bond or penalties due to PAGCOR;
  • Remittance of regulatory fees for the month of April;
  • Must pass the readiness to implement safety protocols

The PAGCOR also assured they will impose safety protocols on POGOs to ensure that its employees will be protected from infections and the spread of the virus in their communities will be avoided.

These safety measures include:

  • The permission of only 30 percent workforce per shift in authorized operating sites;
  • Provision of shuttle services for employees from their places of residence to their offices;
  • Temperature checks upon entry at the office premises;
  • Practicing social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, and
  • Wearing of mask at all times, among other important guidelines to curb the infection

Meanwhile, POGO employees who are confirmed COVID-19 cases, including those who are suspect or probable cases, will not be allowed to work.

“The vulnerable groups, including the sick, immunocompromised, seniors, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities will not be deployed,” PAGCOR said.

“Those who will report back to work – whether Filipinos or foreign nationals – must be tested for COVID-19 and must obtain a negative test result from a testing facility duly-registered with the Food and Drugs Administration,” it added.

POGOs are also required to establish an isolation room for employees who may start to exhibit symptoms of the virus.

“Even with the partial resumption of POGO operations, we will put premium on the safety of their employees, and the gaming industry as a whole,” the agency said.

“While we recognize their huge contributions to nation-building, and their great viability as a funding source in these difficult times, we still have to practice extra precaution in striking a balance between health and economic benefits,” it added.

PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said the decision to allow POGOs’ partial operations was reached with the intention of helping the national government raise necessary funds to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Citing the revenues from POGOs as a significant source of funds that would supplement efforts to curb the health crisis, Domingo assured that the management followed the  guidelines provided by the government under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

The agency said that its decision likewise seeks to preserve the employment of 31,556 Filipinos who were directly hired by said industry; and create ripples in the country’s economic activity such as the real estate industry as POGOs occupy 1,000,000 square-meter of office space.

Domingo said POGO operations were allowed to partially reopen under Information and Communication Technology-Business Process Outsourcing (ICT-BPO) exemption.

Businesses classified under ICT-BPO are those that are involved in non-primary business and functions, which will be allowed to operate under the existing community quarantine rule.

With the partial resumption of POGOs, Domingo said that functions of law enforcement agencies will continue, and sanctions and penalties will apply to POGO licensees and service providers who will be found in violation of PAGCOR’s pre-requisites and security protocols, and of the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF’s) orders.

PAGCOR will also coordinate with local government units in monitoring POGOs compliance to protocols while the IATF will conduct inspections.

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