4 House leaders seek probe of Pogo industry
Four House leaders led by Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva and Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. are calling for a congressional inquiry into the Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogo) industry amid the influx of undocumented foreign workers, most of whom do not pay any taxes.
At the center of the planned House investigation are touchy issues surrounding the employment of mainly Chinese Pogo workers, such as nonpayment of income taxes, violations of immigration and labor laws, and possible security threats arising from the proximity of Pogo hubs to military and police camps.
On Monday, the lawmakers filed House Resolution No. 337 urging Congress to launch an inquiry into the estimated 120,000 aliens working in Pogos.
The objective of the inquiry is to amend laws “to allow the government to effectively regulate the industry and to ensure that the government is able to properly collect revenues from its operations,” the proponents said.
Besides Abante and Villanueva, the other authors of the measure are Manila Rep. Manuel Luis Lopez and Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon.
In a statement, Abante said the inquiry was long overdue “given the numerous issues that have surfaced regarding the Pogo industry.”
“Department of Labor data shows that there are 63,855 documented foreign nationals working in the Pogo industry. But there are some estimates that peg the number at 120,000, and until today the government is still reconciling its data,” the Manila representative said.
“The fact that we cannot even accurately account for these workers is troubling. If we have problems with regard to their documentation, then we will definitely have issues properly determining revenue collection,” said Abante.
Pogo hubs near camps
Aside from the revenue losses, Abante said he and the other lawmakers were disturbed by reports that Pogo hubs had been established in what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described as “strategic locations,” spurring speculations of Chinese espionage.
Some Philippine defense installations that are near Chinese online casinos include the Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame, the Air Force headquarters in Pasay City, the Philippine Army headquarters in Taguig City, the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard and Sangley Point in Cavite.
“What kind of possible threats do these Pogo hubs near our defense installations represent? These and other concerns are what we want to address in an inquiry,” Abante said.
He also cited a Department of Finance (DOF) estimate that the government was losing P2 billion a month in personal income taxes that were not being collected from the Pogo workers.
Earlier this month, Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II was quoted as saying “our estimate is that P2 billion a month [is] not being collected from personal income taxes, and that is why an interagency task force has been formed by the DOF in order to make sure who is here in the country working in the sector.”
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