Scene from a raid by authorities against an illegal offshore gaming ops (PNA)
Interesting question as the Senate ways and means committee opens Monday, October 3, an inquiry into Philippine offshore gaming operators, who have been on the radar screen of the country’s law enforcement authorities in recent weeks.
Many will have their eyes and ears glued to the inquiry, with Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the committee, saying the inquiry would look into whether or not it was possible that POGOs can operate crime-free in the country.
“We will try to look at the benefits vis-a-vis the social cost, its effects on our country; we will look at the future of the POGO industry in our country, that while we want to entice businesses that will bring in revenues but will not cause the rise of criminal activities,” he said in a radio interview.
There have been suggestions from some quarters to deport the illegal operators and ban the operation altogether.
But Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said outlawing the POGOs will only do more harm than good as it would worsen the social costs associated with gambling.
His argument: “If the government bans POGOs, it will just drive them underground and that would be worse. Gambling has been digitizing.”
In a statement, Salceda said “First it was e-sabong (electronic cockfighting), then e-bingo and e-casino. You can only stop gambling if you can stop digitalization. Can you stop the digitalization of gambling? Can you stop digitalization?”
Salceda, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on ways and means, said the better approach to POGOs was to regulate and tax them properly.
He may have a point in saying the law should be enforced strictly to solve gambling-related crimes of kidnapping, extortion, and prostitution.
In the meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to close down illegal POGOs.
Justice Department spokesperson Mico Clavano told a public hearing last week that data from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation showed that there have been 175 canceled POGOs as of September 14, 2022.
Clavano said the DOJ is seeking to arrest illegal POGO workers within the first week of October and have them deported by mid-October.
We understand Gatchalian’s committee will tackle three resolutions filed by Senators Grace Poe, Risa Hontiveros, and Imee Marcos that seek to look into the impacts of online gambling in the country amid the recent spate of POGO-related killings, kidnappings, and other crimes.
The probe will complement the inquiry started by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, chaired by Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, which found that 15 of the 29 recorded kidnapping cases since January were POGO-related.
Aside from the peace and order issue, Gatchalian said the Senate ways and means committee would also look into the economic side of the POGO industry.
As far as Senator Ronald ‘’Bato’’ dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate public order and illegal drugs committee, is concerned, operations of the multi-billion-peso POGO should be abolished.
When asked what would his committee recommendations be, Dela Rosa said it is difficult to make conclusions and recommendations based on emotions even if he is angry about POGO operations.
Criminal elements have invaded POGO operations as senators and law enforcement officials are surprised over the rise of kidnapping for ransom, murder, extortion, and other acts of violence against POGO workers.
Dela Rosa is correct that decisions should be based on data. But again he has said his committee will wait for the outcome of the hearing of Gatchalian’s committee.
But he underlined that as far as he is concerned POGO operations in the country “should be stopped, abolished and replaced.”
Gatchalian has recalled that the Senate approved a measure increasing taxes on POGO operations and on POGO workers. This made POGO operations in the country legal last year.
When the bill was discussed, there were projections that POGO’s revenues would reach P47 billion, Gatchalian said.
But the latest report of the Secretary of Finance showed that POGO revenues only reached P3.7 billion, he said.
Gatchalian also said POGO operations have contributed to the real estate industry as they have leased houses and condominiums and even hired Filipino drivers.
The people are watching.