Reopening POGOs could risk efforts vs COVID-19, senators warn
MANILA, Philippines — Several senators on Friday questioned the partial reopening of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), saying that it could compromise the country’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The issue here is trust. How can we expect POGO operators to adhere to our health regulations if they don’t adhere to our tax laws, they don’t adhere to our immigration laws, they don’t adhere to our criminal laws,” Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement.
He added that reopening the POGO industry could risk Filipino workers to possible infection.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) suspended the POGO operations mid-March amid the pandemic, but on Friday, the country’s state gaming regulator confirmed that the government’s COVID-19 task force has allowed the partial reopening the industry.
Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo said the resumption of POGO operations was hinged on generating revenues that could augment funds to battle the pandemic.
“If we are looking at the P7 billion annual income from POGO, this is measly to compared to the P2.5 trillion loss due to COVID-19 as estimated by PIDS (Philippine Institute for Development Studies). We cannot afford another lockdown due to re-emergence of the virus,” Gatchalian went on.
“Let’s focus our energies eliminating the spread of the virus rather than fighting fires the POGOs will eventually create,” he added.
Senator Joel Villanueva shared the same concern as he believes that reopening offshore gaming operations in the country may lead to a rise of coronavirus cases.
“Nananawagan tayo sa Inter-agency Task Force (IATF), bigyan tayo ng basis, ano yung logic behind all of this na bubuksan mo itong sector na ito, ang taas ng risk na makapag-transmit o makahawa nitong COVID-19,” Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee said in an online conference with reporters.
(I’m calling on the Inter-agency Task Force to give us a basis, what is the logic behind all of this that that you will open a sector that has a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and infection).
“Isipin naman natin yung safety ng ating mga kababayan, yung mga nakatira sa condominiums, yung mga nakatira o nagtatrabaho doon sa mga building…’Pag ito ay natiyambahan at nagkaroon ng outbreak at dito nagsimula sa sector na ito, baka sabihin natin nasa huli talaga ang pagsisi,” he added.
(Let us think about the safety of those living in condominiums, those who are living and working in these buildings… If an outbreak emerges from this sector, we would say that regret is really always felt when it’s too late).
Senator Risa Hontiveros, likewise, said the government’s decision to resume POGO operations would undermine efforts to fight the spread of the virus, which has so far killed nearly 600 in the country.
“(Pagcor) should explain why it moved to recommend the opening of POGO while there are vehement opinions & serious concerns against it. Bakit parang nagmamadali e naka-(enhanced community quarantine) pa tayo?” Hontiveros said.
“Hindi na nga nagbabayad ng buwis, dawit pa sa mga kaso ng korapsyon at money-laundering, at sangkot pa sa sex at human trafficking,” she added.
(On top of them not paying taxes, the industry is also linked to corruption and money laundering as well as sex and human trafficking).
Senator Sonny Angara, meanwhile, said the Department of Health (DOH) and other concerned agencies should implement strict monitoring on these POGO companies to ensure that they would safety protocols.
“I hope the government has made a thorough evaluation of the risks and benefits that come with this latest move,” he said in a message to reporters.
“Given the residential arrangements which are dormitory type which gave rise to outbreaks in Singapore there must be strict monitoring by the DOH and (the Department of Local and Interior Government or local government units) of the health risks as I don’t expect Pagcor to be equipped to do the checking,” he added.
Metro Manila and other high risk areas remain under an enhanced community quarantine until May 15 while a general community quarantine (GCQ) has been imposed on moderate to low risk provinces.
To date, Philippine health authorities have so far confirmed 8,488 COVID-19 cases in the country. Of the number, 568 have died while 1,043 have so far recovered.
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