Gatchalian pushes for BPO industry development amid calls to ban POGOs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — The country should focus on developing the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry given its growth potential amid calls to ban online gaming operators, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Wednesday.

“Let’s grow our BPO industry… They have a clear roadmap on where they want to go in the next 10 years and they are projecting to grow at about 10% per annum," he told CNN Philippines’ The Source. "If you remove the roadblocks for them to grow easily, we can increase employment from 1.5 million to about 2 million.”

In a hearing on Tuesday at the Senate, Gatchalian said Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) contribute ₱34.68 billion to the country annually, which is 1% of the gross domestic product.

Most POGO workers and players are from China, where gambling is illegal.

While POGOs' contribution to the economy can be considered significant, the senator said the impact of banning them can be mitigated by luring BPOs since they can take up the office spaces to be left behind by gaming operators if the ban were to take effect.

He also noted that according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, the POGO industry does not have a roadmap because of uncertainties regarding its continued existence in the country.

Gatchalian said it would be better for the Philippines to cultivate sustainable businesses that create trickle down employment, than those that cause uncertainty due to external policy changes.

The senator also pointed out that the country is losing the war against POGO-related crimes since only one of the 99 cases investigated by the police ended in conviction.

These syndicates are emboldened given the low conviction rate in the Philippines, Gatchalian noted.

If the country pushes through with the ban, Gatchalian said the transition period is important and should not be abrupt.

The 23,000 skilled Filipino workers in the POGO industry should be given time to look for employment, Gatchalian said, adding BPOs can also absorb them.

Foreign nationals working for POGOs should also be allowed to either leave the country or look for employment in the Philippines after processing their permits, he added.

Aside from the BPO sector, Gatchalian said the country can also boost the tourism sector by keeping its connection with China. The country can also attract more investors through the liberalization laws enacted by lawmakers, he added.

READ: Gatchalian calls on gov’t to coordinate with China amid potential tourism blacklisting

Gatchalian's remarks were echoed by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, who also chairs the House committee on dangerous drugs.

Filipino workers who could lose their jobs can go to the BPO industry, Barbers said, adding that they could be absorbed given their training under POGOs.

On fears that the ban could result in a real estate crash, Barbers said buildings that currently house POGOs can be rented by other businesses.

The lawmaker said POGO operations should stop amid the rising criminal activities linked to the sector.