Senators oppose resumption of POGO operations to aid gov’t COVID-19 response

Marje Pelayo   •   April 22, 2020   •   543

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators expressed opposition against a proposal to resume operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the country allegedly to raise funds to support the national government’s response against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

During a live broadcast aired through Facebook by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque highlighted the contribution of POGO industry as among the government’s sources of funds.

Ang POGO po ay kabahagi siguro ng industriya na nagbibigay ng cash resource sa presidente, sa ating pamahalaan sa pamamagitan ng buwis. Ang tatanungin po natin, (ano) ang risk na pino-pose ng operation ng POGO?” Roque said.

[POGO contributes to the cash resources of the President and the government in the form of taxes. If we may ask, what risks do POGO operations pose?]

But according to Senator Joel Villanueva, POGO is a ‘high-risk sector’ as its workforce is mainly comprised of Chinese nationals.

“It has a huge potential of spreading the disease because there are several workers working in an enclosed area and are residing in high rise condominiums,” the Senate Committee Chair on Labor and Employment.

Villanueva also argued that most POGOs in the country don’t pay government taxes which is enough reason not to allow their operation.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Senator Franklin Drilon said he is totally against the proposal.

“The resumption of POGO will not serve the rationale for a partial lifting of the ECQ to enable essential industries to operate. Since when did POGO become an essential industry?” he said.

Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan raised the question: why not prioritize employment for Filipinos affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) than paying attention to Chinese businesses such as POGO?

Boost state funds? DOF na nga ang nagsasabi na ni hindi nga nagbabayad ng bilyong-bilyong pisong buwis ang mga ‘yan, [It’s the (Department of Finance) that confirms those (POGOs) do not pay taxes,]” he added.

Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, for his part, said he might agree to the idea only on a work-from-home setup.

“If not (work from home), It’s non-essential. I would rather allow construction workers and farmers to go back to work,” he said.

Another opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, stressed that China owes the Philippines big time.

The lady senator said the government should press China to pay over P200-B for environmental damages in West Philippines Sea and about P50-B for unpaid taxes from previous POGO operations.

“POGOs are simply not worth it, and it’s way past time to say goodbye to POGOs,” she said.

Hontiveros vowed to study the possible filing of a resolution that would move China to face its arrears. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

DOF assures enough funds for free COVID-19 vaccine for 20M Filipinos

Robie de Guzman   •   July 31, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) assured that the Philippine government has enough funds to purchase millions of doses of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine once it becomes available.

In a briefing in Malacañang aired on Friday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said they have prepared a financing plan to procure COVID-19 vaccines with the help of the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC).

The PITC, an agency under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) engaged in trading and bulk importation of essential goods for the government, has been tasked to manage the financing efforts for the vaccines.

Researchers and scientists across the world are racing to develop vaccines against the viral respiratory disease as cases continue to spike.

Dominguez said a COVID-19 vaccine could be approved by December this year.

He said the vaccines will be purchased through the PITC and turned over to the DOH.

“Once that happens, the Department of Health now will put in their budget to pay these 400 million dollars or roughly P20 billion,” the finance chief said.

“We can pay them over 2 or 3 years, so babayaran lang nila with the financing companies which is LandBank and DPB, so kayang-kaya ng DPB at ng LandBank na i-finance itong purchase ng COVID vaccine,” he added.

This way, DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez said, the government won’t have to sell properties to finance the purchase of vaccines.

“Kaya po ipinapadaan sa PITC, Philippine International Trade Corporation, dahil para po sila po ang in effect directly na manghihiram mula sa DPB and LandBank,” he said.

“’Yung sinasabi ni Sec. Domiguez, ang may pondo na magpapahiram dito po sa isang government corporation who will execute the importation or the buying ng mga vaccines na ito, para po ang PITC ang magsu-supply sa DOH,” he added.

The vaccines will be administered to the poorest 20 million Filipinos for free.

If each of the 20 million poor Filipinos will need two shots, Dominguez said an estimated P20 billion fund would be needed.

The DTI, however, clarified that this figure is only initial and will be increased based on DOH’s recommendation.

Private companies wanting to secure financing to procure COVID-19 vaccines may do so through the PITC, Secretary Lopez said.

“Maaaring intial po yun dun sa poorest of the poor na communities. Of course, beyond that ang private sector naman po pwede ring makabili padaanin din dito sa PITC para makakuha ng tayo ng volume purchasing o volume discount,” he said. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Joan Nano)

WHO reports record rise in coronavirus cases

UNTV News   •   July 20, 2020

The World Health Organization has reported a record rise in global coronavirus cases for a second day in a row – with the total increasing by nearly 260,000 in 24 hours.

The most new infections on Saturday (July 18) were from the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa.

Those four countries accounted for nearly two-thirds of new cases, according to WHO figures, with the United States alone reporting over 71,000 infections.

India on Friday (July 17) became only the third country in the world to report more than one million cases while Brazil on Thursday (July 16) crossed the two million mark.

Speaking at the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Saturday, UN chief Antonio Guterres said the pandemic had been “likened to an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built.”

“It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: the lie that free markets can deliver healthcare for all; the fiction that unpaid care work is not work; the delusion that we live in a post-racist world; the myth that we are all in the same boat. Because while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in super-yachts while others are clinging to the floating debris.”

Total global coronavirus cases surpassed 14 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally – another milestone in the spread of the disease which has killed nearly 600,000 people in seven months. (Reuters)

UN aid chief to G20 nations: ‘step up now or pay the price later’ for COVID

UNTV News   •   July 17, 2020

Coronavirus support to poor countries has been so far “grossly inadequate and that’s dangerously shortsighted,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Thursday (July 16) as he asked wealthy countries for billions more dollars in assistance.

The United Nations increased its humanitarian appeal by more than a third to $10.3 billion to help 63 states, mainly in Africa and Latin America, tackle the spread and destabilizing effects of the coronavirus. This is up from the world body’s initial $2 billion request in March, then $6.7 billion in May.

So far, Lowcock said, the United Nations has only received $1.7 billion.

“The message to the G20 is step up now or pay the price later,” Lowcock told reporters.

Finance ministers from the Group of 20 major economies will meet virtually on Saturday (July 18).

The coronavirus has infected at least 13.6 million people and there have been more than 584,000 known deaths worldwide, according to a Reuters tally. The United Nations has warned that if action is not taken, the pandemic and associated global recession will trigger an increase in global poverty for the first time since 1990 and push 265 million people to the brink of starvation.

“The response so far of wealthy nations, who’ve rightly thrown out the fiscal and monetary rule books to protect their own people and economies, the response that they’ve made to the situations in other countries has been grossly inadequate and that’s dangerously shortsighted,” Lowcock said.

Lowcock added he had lobbied U.S. lawmakers for funding earlier this week. A House of Representatives committee has proposed $10 billion in international aid. So far, Congress has provided $2.4 billion in emergency foreign aid.

In May, China’s President Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion to help deal with the coronavirus and economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing states.

Lowcock said he would “very much welcome it if some significant proportion of those resources could be used directly to support the global humanitarian response plan.” (Reuters)

(Production: Catherine Koppel)

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