Gov’t OKs partial resumption of POGO operations
MANILA, Philippines — The country’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) inter-agency task force has allowed Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to partially operate amid the quarantine imposed by the government to curb the spread of the virus.
Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) Chairman Andrea Domngo told INQUIRER.net that licensed POGOs will be allowed to resume operations “on a very limited basis and with very strict protocols.”
“Very partially. Only 30 percent of the manpower will be allowed to report,” Domingo said in a phone interview.
She said POGOs would also be required to pay all of its Filipino employees “even if they don’t report for work.”
“They will pay the minimum guarantee fund of about P300 to 350 million for April even if they did not operate and have no revenues, so madaming requirements,” she added.
Before they are allowed to operate, POGOs have to meet certain requirements, one of which is that each company must provide shuttle services from their employees’ place of residence to their respective offices, Domingo said in a statement.
Pagcor, according to its chairman, would impose safety protocols on POGOs to ensure that their employees would be protected from infections and to prevent any spread of the virus in their communities.
Temperature checks upon entry at the office premises, social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection as well as the mandatory wearing of mask would also be required, she added.
Domingo said POGO employees who are positive for the coronavirus as well as those who are suspected or probable cases will not be allowed to work.
Employees belonging to the vulnerable groups, including the sick, immunocompromised, seniors, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities will not be deployed, she added.
Domingo, meanwhile, said all POGO employees who will report to work must first undergo and obtain a negative test result from a testing facility duly-registered with the Food and Drugs Administration.
Companies would also be required to establish an isolation room for employees who may start to manifest symptoms of the disease.
“Even with the partial resumption of POGO operations, we will put premium on the safety of their employees, and the gaming industry as a whole,” the Pagcor chief said.
“While we recognize their huge contributions to nation-building, and their great viability as a funding source in these difficult times, we still have to practice extra precaution in striking a balance between health and economic benefits,” she added.
She then assured that POGO licensees and service providers who will violate Pagcor’s pre-requisites and security protocols as well as government-imposed safety measures will face sanctions and penalties.
Domingo said POGO operations, which were suspended on March 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were allowed to partially reopen because they have been considered as business processing outsourcing (BPO) companies.
BPOs are among the businesses allowed to operate in quarantine areas, provided that a skeleton staff is observed or a work-from-home arrangement is adopted.
The partial resumption of POGO operations comes despite widespread opposition from some lawmakers as the industry has been linked to various crimes and tax issues.
Earlier, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution seeking to end POGO operations in the country for good.
“The government should be thinking of ways of how to get Filipinos back to our livelihood, instead of ways of how best to resume Pogo,” Hontiveros had said.
During a hearing of the Senate labor committee in February, an official from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) said that Pogos in the country have yet to pay an estimated P50 billion in fees and taxes.
The same hearing also revealed that many of the Pogo workers in the country have yet to secure tax identification numbers (TINs).
In another inquiry conducted by the Senate blue ribbon committee, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) told senators that P14 billion of the P54 billion in transactions by Pogos from 2017 to 2019 were linked to “suspicious activities.”
Figures presented by AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela during the hearing also showed that around P138 million in Pogo transactions were linked to drug trafficking.
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