Pimentel on POGO problem: Simplify policy, ban them for good

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 22) — Sen. Koko Pimentel recommends a simpler way to eliminate the country's problems with Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) — ban them for good.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday, Pimentel said even the existence of legal POGOs in the country has been used to camouflage the entry of undesirable aliens.

"Para sa akin, the problem is in the enforcement of a policy which is so elaborate, ang daming mga conditions or special provisions, merong legal POGOs, may illegal POGOs, ang crimes, hindi na natin alam committed ba 'yan by aliens who are here because of legal POGOs? Or they are here because of illegal POGOs?" Pimentel said. "Ang dami na rin nila."

[Translation: For me, the problem is in the enforcement of a policy which is so elaborate, with so many conditions or special provisions, you have existing legal and illegal POGOs, and you do not know whether certain crimes are committed by aliens who are here because of legal or illegal POGOs. There's so many of them already.]

Pimentel said even authorities from the first and second line of defense — immigration officials and policemen — find it difficult to identify the background of POGO workers entering the country due to lack of information at their fingertips.

"So what's the best way to solve this problem? Simplify everything. Simplify our policy. Ban POGOs. Therefore, sa first line of defense 'pag papasok ka because you work for a POGO, hindi na pwede (in our first line of defense, if you will come to the country because you work for a POGO, you will not be allowed entry)," the opposition senator said.

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the Chinese Embassy said Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and Ambassador Huang Xilian have already discussed strengthening cooperation between the Philippines and China to crack down on POGO-related crimes.

READ: DOJ chief to meet with Chinese envoy over deportation of POGO workers 

Remulla recently told senators in a budget hearing that the closure of POGOs may spark a "humanitarian crisis," since China has made it hard for POGO workers to return after working in the Philippines. There are reportedly about 40,000 Chinese individuals working in POGOs.

But for Pimentel, it is not acceptable for the Philippine government to allow illegal aliens to stay in the country because they are no longer welcome in their homeland.

He added that in the first place, China's ban on POGOs should have cancelled the validity of travel documents of all those going abroad to work in the industry.

"We have to ask China to help us send their countrymen back to their homeland by not scaring them away from their homeland, saying ‘you’re not welcome here, may kaso kayo dito (you have a case here).'”

Pimentel also projects that if the proposal to ban POGOs is tackled in the plenary, it would likely be a "close fight" among senators, noting that more of his colleagues would be in favor of simply reforming the system and allowing legal POGOs to continue operating in the country.