Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva has filed a bill that intends to ban all forms of online gambling in the country. The move comes as recent issues with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) drew renewed interest in stricter regulation, following a series of alleged abductions at their premises. Gaming regulator PAGCOR has ordered the closure of two POGOs, and revoked the license of one, after more than 140 foreign workers were rescued over the weekend.
Villanueva’s Senate Bill 1281, the proposed “Anti-Online Gambling Act”, seeks to penalize people who engage in online gambling with a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to PHP 500,000 ($8711).
Villanueva indicated this bill intends to prevent “further deterioration of morals and values, encourage people to work instead of relying on a game of chance, stop addiction and save lives," as reported by ABS-CBN News.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III expressed he supports the ban of POGO operations in the country, as he encouraged the Senate and the House majority blocs to unite and prioritize the approval of this measure. “Given what we’re seeing now as numerous ill effects, the Congress has the moral duty to ban POGOs. We should act now,” he said.
“It will be a bipartisan measure. We can’t afford to dilly-dally on banning POGOs when the nation’s moral fiber and peace and order are on the line. You are the majority. Get your act together. If you say ‘stop POGO’, we will support you,” Pimentel added.
He also stated that Malacañang should also heed the call to ban POGO in the Philippines. “The continued operation of POGOs in the country is dangerous. It is akin to harboring would-be criminals and gangsters that can eventually cause massive disruptions of peace and order in the country as we are beginning to see now with the spate of kidnapping incidence and other violent activities," Pimentel noted, as reported by the cited source.
Authorities recently rescued 70 foreigners allegedly detained inside a POGO site in Rizal. About 40 other POGO workers who may have been victims of human trafficking were also rescued in Angeles City, Pampanga police said.
In the meantime, Senator Grace Poe called for a “full-on probe on the social costs of POGOs” in the country to evaluate whether the country can still accommodate its operations. Poe announced she “would be filing a resolution on this immediately so that the chamber and the public can explore together its stance on POGOs once and for all."
Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is expected to submit to the plenary a report regarding the Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs committee’s investigation on POGO operations. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said he would wait for Dela Rosa’s report first before making a final decision.