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Pogos told to pay P1.365 billion and leave

/ 04:52 AM September 07, 2021

Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines — Saying there was no excuse for the P1.365 billion in debt owed to the government by Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos), Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday told these online-gambling service providers to pay up and leave the country.

The senator called out the state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for its failure to collect the outstanding debt of 15 Pogos, of which only three were still operating while the rest had licenses that were canceled, suspended or were under review.

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“Why were debts by Pogos allowed to get this big? Pagcor needs to go after them. Not only do they owe more than a billion, they have also brought in crime. Pogos, pay your dues and get out of the Philippines,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

She cited the Commission on Audit’s (COA) 2020 report, which found that Pagcor had a total of P1.382 billion in overdue receivables as of Dec. 31, of which P1.365 billion was owed by Pogos.

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The remaining P16.2 million represented uncollected dues from operators of other Pagcor-licensed traditional or electronic games like poker and bingo.

Unfair extension

Based on information from Pagcor’s legal department, only three of the 15 delinquent Pogos were still operating as of Jan. 12. Eight had their licenses canceled, three were under review and one was suspended.

Hontiveros said the delinquent Pogos, once they have settled their obligations, should no longer be granted a new license.

“If even Filipinos who can’t pay rent aren’t given allowance, why are Pogos allowed such prolonged extension? When Pogos first entered the country, we were promised investment and economic activity, but what we got was a myriad of crimes,” she said.

Hontiveros, who led a Senate investigation on the rise of Pogo-related prostitution, cited reports that the National Capital Region Police Office recently arrested two Chinese Pogo employees who abducted two other Chinese.

It was evident, she said, that even in the middle of the pandemic, Pogo-related crimes continued.

“Once travel restrictions are loosened, for sure, it will be business as usual for [Pogo-related crimes]. If we don’t kick Pogos out, chances are these crimes will only multiply,” Hontiveros warned.

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She, along with other opposition Senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan, voted no to the Pogo tax bill approved in the Senate last June.

The senator had disagreed with the preferential tax treatment given to Pogos in the bill because of the “opacity and murkiness” of the industry.

“Pagcor should not condone this P1.36-billion debt. I’ve repeatedly called on the government to get rid of Pogos because the social cost of their operations outweigh the shallow gains,” Hontiveros said.

“They are a headache that can’t be cured. We didn’t need Pogos then and we surely don’t need them now,” she said.

Banned

Meanwhile, an upscale gated residential community in Muntinlupa City has suspended the approval or renewal of lease agreements and move-in permits for houses that would be occupied by mainland Chinese tenants due to alleged violations of a number of village rules and regulations.

A newsletter published on Saturday and released to residents and members of Ayala Alabang Village Association (AAVA) said the homeowners’ Board of Governors approved a resolution on Aug. 31, “in response to the incessant number of incidents of mainland Chinese tenants blatantly violating [a 2018] board resolution, which provides that properties shall be exclusively used for residential purposes by a single family only.”

The resolution will be fully implemented beginning Oct. 1, the association said.

It explained that, based on investigations made by both AAVA and Barangay Ayala Alabang, incidents of violation of community quarantine protocols were also found to be mostly committed by mainland Chinese tenants occupying the rented houses, which they use as staff houses.

“In addition, most of them violated traffic rules and even strict curfew regulations notwithstanding the pandemic,” the association said. “The Board of Governors has deemed these offensive actions to have a large impact on the general safety, security and health of the community.”

More importantly, the newsletter said that a board member reported that Barangay Ayala Alabang officer in charge Dr. Marcus Lester Suntay had found 18 individuals listed as active COVlD-19 cases, “all with a similar residence address within the village, who cannot be found in their registered Ayala Alabang Village residential addresses.”

“The difficulty with tracing and monitoring of these cases was also attributed to lessees involved in a series of violations,” the association said. “This becomes problematic as COVID-19 and its Delta variant have been on the rise in the past weeks.”

The clampdown is the latest development in a long-running issue between residents of upscale residential villages around Metro Manila and mainland Chinese tenants who take out leases on houses within the communities and use them as offices for gambling operations or as staff houses for their personnel, in violation of community rules.

It was determined in previous incidents that some of these Chinese personnel were operating illegal online gaming activities that were not registered as Pogos with Pagcor.

The AAVA added that several complaints were also filed and forwarded to the village association through its anonymous incident reporting platform in recent weeks regarding the activities being held in the staff houses for online gaming operators.

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