Citing money laundering risks, policy lapses, senator eyes suspending POGOs in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — A senator has recommended the suspension of Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs due to numerous loopholes in government policies that allow Chinese nationals in the country to engage in money laundering and other criminal activities.

“The bottomline of what happened today speaks for itself. Isuspindi muna ang mga POGOs habang di pa naaayos ang mga patakaran. Ang mga ahensya ng gobyerno ay di pa nakikita ang mga sarili kung paano ireregulate ito,” said Sen. Joel Villanueva, who heads the Senate Committee on Labor.

[Translation: We should suspend POGOs first while our policies are not yet straightened out. Our government agencies are still incapable of assessing how they can regulate them.]

Villanueva presided over Tuesday’s hearing which uncovered that at least 6,678 foreign nationals were working in POGOs without the necessary alien employment permits.

The number is only based on the inspected POGOs allowed to fully operate in the country. This means establishments not yet inspected by authorities may have more foreign nationals who work without the necessary permits.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation said there are over 118,000 POGO workers in the country, while data from the Department of Labor and Employment show there are 156,000 of them here.

“Mula sa datos ng pagdagsa ng mga foreign workers dito sa bansa, iba-iba po ang data ng Pagcor. Iba ang data ng Inter-Agency Task Force. Iba ang data ng DOLE. Ito po ay sumasalamin lamang sa hindi maayos na pamamahala at patakaran ng ating mga ahensya para masiguro na maayos na mareregulate itong industriyang ito,” Villanueva told the media.

[Translation: Right from the necessary data on how many foreign workers have entered the country, Pagcor has given different figures. The data of the Inter-Agency Task Force is different. DOLE’s data is different. This only shows that our government agencies cannot fully implement policies that will ensure the regulation of this industry.]

During the hearing, the Anti-Money Laundering Council noted that over ₱50 billion has been going in and out of the Philippines, but only over ₱7 billion has been collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This accounts for only about 0.4% of the country’s gross domestic product, Villanueva said.

DOLE admits being ‘powerless’ in imposing sanctions

Even the Labor Department has admitted that it is “powerless” in sanctioning illegal POGO workers.

“We are powerless. We can only remind them (POGOs) that they are allowing employees without alien employment permits…if there are foreign nationals doing work without permits, there is nothing we can do” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told the panel.

The BIR added that over ₱27 billion worth of tax liabilities remain uncollected from the sector.

“Klarong klaro po na dapat pansamantalang itigil ito kung [para sa] kapakanan ng mas marami,” said Villanueva.

[Translation: It is very clear that these operations should be stopped for the good of the majority.]