Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday called on the government to put a stop to all Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGOs), saying the negative impact of these businesses on society far outweighs their supposed economic benefits.
“We must put a stop to POGOs because ‘yang industry na ‘yan has become a breeding ground for illegal activities such as money laundering, and there have been multiple reports of kidnapping and even murder of those working in the industry,” Cayetano said on January 23, 2023
“In fact, rather than benefiting the economy, the presence of POGOs has harmed the reputation of our country in the international community,” he added.
Cayetano’s comments came as the Senate Committee on Ways and Means conducted a hearing on Monday to look into the tax revenues made by the government from POGOs, with some senators saying the current system in place to extract the Gross Gaming Revenue from these gambling operations is marred by dodgy contracts and third-party service providers that lack the required experience.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has also weighed in on the issue, saying the revenues made from POGOs might not be worth the social costs and that his administration is “continuously examining” the pros and cons of allowing POGOs in the country.
He noted that Chinese authorities themselves have begun cracking down on the industry’s workers, a majority of whom are Chinese nationals, and that the Philippines is open to cooperating with Beijing in this regard.
Cayetano has maintained a staunchly anti-POGO stance stemming from his broader opposition to gambling operations of any kind.
“Ang punto ko lang, bakit pahahabain pa yung isyu? Kumpleto naman yung facts, alam naman natin kung makakabuti o hindi. So if you’re arguing from the economic side, klaro yun. If you’re arguing from the moral side, klaro din yun. But sa akin, yung moral at economic, magkakabit,” the senator said.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said in September 2022 that the Philippines can move forward without POGOs because revenues have already dropped sharply while the reputational risks for the country in the international community have risen, with China and Cambodia both having declared their own bans on offshore gaming operations.
In late 2022, as reports of kidnappings and assaults involving Chinese nationals and even some Filipinos working in POGOs surfaced, Cayetano urged the government to be more “decisive” on whether it wants these gambling operations to continue or not.
“We respect other cities with other opinions, pero naniniwala kami na kapag inallow mo ang gambling, sinusugal mo rin ang buhay ng mga mamamayan mo. Y’ung POGOs parang environmental hazard, either you allow it or you don’t. Ang personal advice ko sa gobyerno, be decisive about this issue,” the senator said on October 27, 2022.
He added that no amount of tax revenue can justify the social costs of gambling, going so far as saying that he is open to the idea of abolishing the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation as a result of implementing a total ban on gambling in the country.
“Kahit magkano ang pera na ipakita mo sa ‘kin, hindi magbabago ang personal posisyon ko na dapat hindi payagan ang gambling dahil masama yan sa lipunan,” he said.