Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

Let those POGOs go

Sep 21, 2022, 5:31 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Writer/Columnist

I join the clamor to let the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) go because it has disturbed not just the economic fabric of our country (through their non-payment of what is due to the government) but they have made gamblers out of the Filipinos.

Isn’t it enough that we have too many casinos as it is—patronized of course by the rich, which I don’t mind being mulched by these casinos. But the presence of casinos and the seeming exclusivity it imbues—since only those with so much money can enter and play until they go bankrupt—becomes aspirational for many middle class, salaried workers. It becomes a must-see or must-visit place, or part of their bucket lists.

I once had a friend working in government. He got hooked on the casino until he lost all, including his family. He committed suicide—just like the man who ran amok in the casino in recent years.

And then those POGOs came and the gambling spirit went on full gear. The only winners in their continued operation here are landowners who leased their buildings and properties to the POGOs. But I do hope they got paid in full because the government through the PAGCOR said it still has P1.356 billion payables to the government but many of them have left the country.

It was only in recent months that the POGOs and their links to criminal gangs had been unearthed, which is why several senators are clamoring for their exit.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno told a recent Senate inquiry that POGO revenues plunged to P3.9 billion in 2021 from P7.2 billion in 2020.

POGOs need to pay their host government so much more.

Former Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had repeatedly said that POGOs and their workers were evading taxes. An inter-agency effort to padlock these POGOs were spearheaded by Dominguez himself.

Despite scathing remarks of former Cabinet members, Duterte went on to encourage the industry.

Will the Marcos administration continue Duterte’s preference for POGO operations here.

During the budget briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee at the Senate on Thursday, September 15, Diokno expressed the need to discontinue Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) due to its “social cost.”

“In fact, China has discontinued POGO. Even Cambodia. It also has reputational risk. People will ask, ‘Why are they going to the Philippines, it is discontinued in China. Why are they going to the Philippines?’ Maybe because we are loose, we are not strict on our rules,” said Diokno, who had served as Duterte’s budget chief and central bank governor.

Should POGOs totally exit the Philippines under the Marcos administration, a web of business relationships may likely take the hit.

Economic gains

Since POGOs were allowed to expand in Manila in 2016, businesses like properties, fintech, transportation, and restaurants got a massive dose of steroids through gambling money. In effect, banks where real estate companies borrowed funds also benefited from the rise of POGOs.

Industry estimates show that POGOs bring in a whopping P551 billion in revenues to the economy yearly. Businesses around POGO sites have also become somewhat dependent on them for income.

However, POGOs were forced to shut down in March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, with their workers returning to China. (READ: Manila office vacancy to reach peak since global financial crisis).

During the pandemic, POGOs have vacated a total of 454,000 square meters (sqm) of office space, resulting in a steep drop in rental rates.

Property experts earlier expected that POGOs will have a “revenge” comeback as borders opened but data from Leechiu Property Consultants showed that online gambling companies’ office take up was almost zero from the first quarter of 2020 to the last quarter of 2021.

POGO office take up only reached 21,000 sqm as of the second quarter of 2022. This pales in comparison to outsourcing companies, with 114,000 sqm in the same period.

But not only were the POGO operations a headache for government, people and communities complained about the bad behavior and hygiene practices of those Chinese traveling in the country for the POGO operations.

The Catholic Church had been complaining the loudest about the disorder in the moral fabric of society that the POGOs brought to our shores. And I agree.

Crime—particularly the surge in kidnap for ransom—has been victimizing not just aliens but also Filipinos, particularly the youth who are being marketed in the slave trade. Whereas before we had very little of KFRs, now it has been the subject of complaints by the largest business group—the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. And don’t tell me those businessmen are lying.

I just hope the Marcos administration will have the balls to kick them out for good because they are not the kind of investments that we want our country to be known for.


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