June 25, 2024

The Insider News

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Panek approves measures banning POGOs

THE House Committee on Games and Amusement, chaired by Rep. Antonio Ferrer (Cavite, 6th District), on Monday approved House Bill (HB) 5082 and House Resolution (HR) 1197, measures that seek to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) and declaring their operations illegal. 

HR 1197 author Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro, 2nd District) explained that his call to ban POGOs in the country is based on Article II, Section 5 of the Constitution which provide that “the maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential to the enjoyment by the people of the blessings of a democracy.”

Rodriguez cited Philippine National Police (PNP) data showing 4,039 victims of POGO-related crimes were recorded in the first six months of 2023. 

“These particular cases include the following – human trafficking, forcible abduction, homicide, illegal detention, kidnapping for ransom, theft, robbery, extortion, serious physical injuries, swindling, grave coercion, investment scam, cryptocurrency scam, and love scam… the entire gamut of criminal law is already included here for the felonies under the Revised Penal Code (RPC),” Rodriguez pointed out, adding that since he filed HR 1197 in August 2023, many more crimes have been committed. 

The lawmaker said POGOs led to the rise in prostitution making the “Philippines the international situs of ladies from Vietnam, from Myanmar coming here, not only our ladies, but ladies from the other parts of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are here.” 

Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas supported Rodriguez’s conclusion, stating that human trafficking and prostitution have become constant with the proliferation of POGOs. She recalled a raid conducted by law enforcers in a POGO office in Parañaque in November 2023 where government agents found a massage area and a spa and rescued 16 women.

Rep. Gus Tambunting (2nd District, Parañaque City) asked how much the Philippine Amusement and Games Corporation (PAGCOR) earns from POGOs and what is PAGCOR’s plan to cover its revenue losses if the said measures are approved.  

PAGCOR Chairman Alejandro Tengco replied that the government earned P5.2 billion from POGOs in 2023 and that closure of POGOs will affect 25,000 Filipino employees, 625,000 square meters of leased commercial office space, excluding leased residential houses and thousands of restaurants in Metro Manila and key cities in provinces.   

He explained that POGO revenues only accounts for 5 or 6 percent of PAGCOR’s revenues; most of the agency’s income comes from licensed casinos.  

“We have to push hard on all the other revenue generating licensees that we have such as licensed casinos and online gaming,” Tengco said, adding, P6.5 billion to P7 billion income can be generated from the current licensees. 

Rep. Eddiebong Plaza (2nd District, Agusan del Sur) saw the issue as a problem of regulation, “PAGCOR is not given enough teeth to lead the regulation of POGOs in our country.” 

Tengco reported the corrective measures PAGCOR implemented to address the issues involving POGOs, which according to him had positive results. He said that the crimes and other criminal activities mentioned by Rodriguez have been addressed.

“The PNP will support my statement that such crimes have considerably gone down,” Tengco said.

PNP Police Maj. Gen. Sidney Hernia, director of the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, confirmed the involvement of POGO license owners in illegal activities as cited by Rodriguez.  

He also relayed the PNP’s suggestions to improve regulation and enforcement: 1) to include in the definition of terms the definition of gaming paraphernalia the terms: computer, computer system, and other ICT devices; 2) that the law enforcement agencies concerned be included in as members of the task force for a more streamlined, effective, and efficient implementation thereof once enacted; 3) to include in Section 13 a clause giving law enforcement officers a maximum of 36 hours to deliver the detained person to the appropriate authorities as an exception to Article 125 of the RPC; 4) that penalties should be imposed on specific personalities involved in POGO such as: shareholders, investors, owners, and managers thereof, among others.