POGOs should be strictly regulated, not banned! | Inquirer Opinion
Sharp Edges

POGOs should be strictly regulated, not banned!

/ 09:13 AM September 27, 2022

Over the past few weeks, there has been a growing clamor for government to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs. While the calls are justified due to the alarming rise in kidnapping and other crimes, cooler heads are asking for a more sober approach to the industry.

One of them is Rep. Joey Sarte-Salceda, resident economist of the House of Representatives and author of the 2021 POGO tax law.

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He argued that a blanket ban on a specific sector, when there are existing laws to prevent abuses in any business, will be seen as arbitrary. “That will hurt our reputation with investors, not just in the gaming sector. We will be known as a country that burns down houses just to kill the rat inside,” he stressed.

Salceda has a point. Indeed, we are a country trying to solve problems by sweeping them under the rug or banning entire industries to weed out a few rotten eggs. It’s time we grow up as a nation and face problems head-on instead of conveniently avoiding them. If kidnapping or criminality is rampant, there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned police work. Banning an industry doesn’t mean the criminals will go away. They will just look for other victims.

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As chairman of the powerful House ways and means committee, Salceda said a significant slice of smuggling comes from ecozones. “Large-scale smuggling is economic sabotage. But the solution is to fight smuggling harder, not to close all ecozones. Likewise, the solution to illegal POGO is not to close all POGOs. If anything, that will only create an entire underground sector,” he stressed.

This is a dire warning. When POGOs go underground, the State will suffer a triple-whammy: the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) will lose billions in taxes and license fees, respectively; Chinese criminal gangs will continue to wreak havoc; and government would be in a far worse situation than the status quo it’s trying to escape.

I share Salceda’s position that government should fight all forms of illegal gaming operations by saying, “That’s the function of law enforcement. But our policy cannot be to give up an entire industry just because there are bad actors. All industries have bad actors,”.

Proposals for a total ban against offshore gaming in the Philippines are also problematic. According to Salceda, POGOs occupy some 1.1 million square meters of office space. This provides developers with a steady income stream that can be reinvested to build new office spaces and housing. There are also close to 70,000 Filipinos working in POGOs as janitors, security guards, administrative and support staff, and others. He warned that a sudden downturn in office occupancy will kill an estimated P18.9 billion in rental income from offices, and 28.6 billion in housing rent. In addition, the country will lose out in terms of the P950 million that POGO workers spend daily in Philippine stores. Their commissaries also spend P11.4 billion annually from Filipino caterers.

To all of these, Salceda has a simple proposed solution: keep POGO operations within POGO-specific zones that are ringfenced from the rest of the country. New licenses will be in these zones, and existing licenses will be allowed only to complete their leases. Any offshore gaming that operates outside such zones will be considered illegal and offshore gaming outside these premises can be arrested in flagrante delicto – without much further investigation. That way, we also limit needless interaction with the sector, and can keep its clientele as exclusively foreign, he said.

I couldn’t agree more.

(Next topic)

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In a recent climate-change conference I attended just before super typhoon “KARDING” (Noru) struck Central Luzon, there was a clamor to transform the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), into an implementing agency called Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), like the American FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

FEMA takes charge in times of disaster, hurricane, major earthquakes, or floods specifically, response, relief, and recovery thru its National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), by organizing and coordinating the national government’s support to hard-hit LGUs.

A more significant part of FEMA’s job is helping people recover after a disaster, providing temporary housing, emergency home repairs, loss of personal property, funeral and medical expenses, grants, and even loans, among other things. People who are victims of disasters only deal with FEMA to receive government help.

Our NDRMMC, under the Department of National Defense, concentrates only on disaster response and immediate relief while the post-disaster initiatives are handled separately by other government agencies, like DSWD for dole-outs, DPWH for infra repair and, DOH for medical assistance. With several disasters occurring every year, the NDRMMC and the LGUs have coordinated very well, a superb job so far, was its response to super typhoon KARDING (Noru), which hit Central Luzon. The pre-emptive evacuation was on time, and many areas recorded zero casualties.

However, disaster victims and hard-hit communities desperately need long-term assistance and are left at the mercy of “busy” government agencies and some enterprising politicians, especially when media coverage has ended.

No need to create new plantilla positions or hire new people for the proposed Department of Disaster Response (DDR). Just immediately gather all our disaster, relief and rehabilitation experts now serving under NDRMMC, and operationalize them as a single permanent agency -DDR) to effectively meet our peoples’ needs.

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TAGS: column, Philippine offshore gaming operators, POGOs, Sharp Edges
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