House Minority Leader Benny Abante Jr. on Tuesday urged the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to deport the 44 Chinese nationals who were arrested during a raid on an illegal Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) center in Parañaque City, as he again cautioned the government against lifting the ban on POGOs during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) now being enforced to contain the coronavirus disease COVID-19 pandemic.
Abante stressed that deporting the 44 Chinese nationals and not allowing POGOs to resume operations in the country “would send a strong and unequivocal message to all POGO operators and businesses run by foreign nationals: shape up or ship out.”
“It is a dangerous assumption to believe that allowing POGOs to operate would result in additional funds for the government.”
“The people behind these POGOs obviously have no regard for our laws. Government representatives have testified that these POGO operators do not care if we lose billions of pesos in revenues because they do not pay taxes,” said the lawmaker.
“Now it appears they do not care if they endanger the lives of thousands by blatantly ignoring rules that are in place to protect the health and welfare of the general population.”
The government has repeatedly stated that under the current Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases guidelines, POGOs are not considered an essential industry and are not allowed to operate during the ECQ.
However, Palace spokesman Harry Roque on Monday said that POGOs may be allowed to operate if the government needs additional revenues to address the needs of the people.
According to Roque: “Ang Pogos under GCQ guidelines ay mananatiling sarado. Gayunpaman, kung ang desisyon ay pabuksan ‘yan, ang tanging basehan lang po ay simple, kinakailangan natin ng pondo para magastos sa pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan. Yun lang po yan. Simple mathematics.”
POGOs are not considered an essential industry and are not allowed to operate during the ECQ.
Abante warned that “it is a dangerous assumption to believe that allowing POGOs to operate would result in additional funds for the government.’
The legislator pointed out that “even Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has acknowledged that the government loses as much as 18,750 pesos a month from uncollected taxes from each POGO worker.”
“If the BIR’s data is accurate and there are 108,914 POGO workers in the country, then that means we lose an estimated 24.5 billion pesos in tax revenues per year. This is the math we should pay attention to,” explained Abante.
The solon from Manila reiterated his position that government should first resolve issues regarding POGO operations before allowing them to operate in the country, even after the ECQ is lifted.