Banning POGOs will be good for tourism – NEDA
MANILA, Philippines — Banning Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) will benefit tourism, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
The negative effects of POGOs outweigh the revenues they bring to the country, Sarah Lynne Ducanes, NEDA assistant secretary for the Policy and Planning Group, said on Wednesday at a hearing of the House Committee on Labor and Employment on the effects of POGOs on employment.
Ducanes was answering Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting who asked if banning POGOs would hurt the country economically.
Having POGOs would affect the reputation of the Philippines among potential investors, she said.
“Not because of POGO per see, but the fraudulent activities [associated with it] can put us in that [black] list or has put us in that list. That can affect this entire economic environment that we’re trying to create to attract investments both local and foreign,” Ducanes said.
“So far, Your Honor, our preliminary estimates show that POGOs generate a net cost to us in terms of just considering the effect on tourism, the potential effect of Chinese tourism on the country, and the estimates that we have.”
She noted that there would be some losses — such as office rental revenues — if POGOs were to move out of the country. But that would make it easier for tourists from China, which has a ban on gambling, to visit the Philippines.
The boost in tourism would make up for the losses, she said.
But Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the NEDA assessment was highly speculative.
Salceda, an economist who chairs the House Committee on Ways and Means, said there were fewer Chinese tourists not because of POGOs but because of China’s stringent policy against outbound travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, Chinese tourist arrivals in Cambodia and the United Arab Emirates — which he called “friends” of China — decreased at around the same percentage as the arrivals in the Philippines.
Salceda presented a table showing that Chinese tourist arrivals in 2021 went down by 99.4 percent compared to figures in 2019 or even earlier — in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philippines had 1.74 million Chinese tourist arrivals in 2019, but only 10,000 in 2021, Salceda pointed out.
In Cambodia, Chinese tourist arrivals in the same time period decreased by 99.0 percent — from 2.36 million to 20,000. In Dubai, the decrease was 96.3 percent — 990,000 to 40,000. Worldwide, the decrease was 94.5 percent — from 154.6 million to 8.50 million.
“See, I think it’s quite speculative to say if we look at these, the Chinese outbound tourists. Cambodia who is supposed to be a friend of China or Dubai, how come they also had the same 95 percent [decrease]?” Salceda said.
“In short, China has been actually implementing a no-tourist policy… So it’s the same 99.4 percent. So I think it’s highly speculative for NEDA to relate [a possible increase in Chinese tourist arrivals. And in fact, the Chinese ambassador was quick to clarify the statements that were attributed to some of our leaders,” he said.
Salceda said he had several countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam — countries that have a thriving casino industry largely due to Chinese gamblers.
“It’s very clear here that there is no difference if you have a POGO or not. China really has not allowed tourists to get out because of their zero-COVID policy,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Linked to crimes
Calls to ban POGO came out again after several crimes were linked to the gaming operations. In the past two months, police conducted operations to rescue kidnapped POGO workers.
This led several lawmakers to question whether the income obtained from POGOs was enough to justify their continued existence.
More questions about the sustainability of POGOs were raised after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said that China had placed the Philippines on a blacklist due to the continuous operations of POGOs.
However, the Chinese embassy denied that. Zubiri then said it might have been an error in translation. But he maintained that the Philippines had already been blacklisted.
The House panel started its own probe on the effect of POGOs on employment. During the hearing, a POGO worker pleaded to lawmakers not to ban the games, as they had been a source of livelihood for many Filipinos.
POGO workers plead to House: Please don’t kill sector helping many Filipinos
POGO shut down after rescue of 43 Chinese
Kidnapped Chinese, 42 other POGO workers rescued in Pampanga — Abalos
PH not on China’s tourism blacklist – Chinese Embassy
‘Lost in translation’? China ‘may’ blacklist PH – Zubiri
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