Ten of the 18 members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee have signed the committee's report recommending the ban of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that the development could help maintain "peace and order" and sustain economic growth in the country.
As per local news publication Philstar, apart from Gatchalian, who chairs the panel, Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, and Senators Ronald dela Rosa, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Grace Poe, Raffy Tulfo, Pia Cayetano and Risa Hontiveros also signed Committee Report No. 136.
Gatchalian noted that the committee report, which seeks to ban POGOs, would be reported to the plenary for deliberation. He further said that the senators would just deliberate the phase-out period, whether immediately or within three months, although he said he is personally calling for an immediate ban. The senator noted that with the filing of the committee report, the country would realize "sooner than later" the removal of POGOs.
“This is an important step to curb the spread of crimes originating from certain POGO companies,” Gatchalian said. “It’s clear from the data that we have gathered in recent months that criminals are utilizing POGOs to engage in various crimes, including human trafficking, as well as various investments such as cryptocurrency and love scams."
Senate members Pimentel, Ejercito, and Hontiveros said they would interpellate and introduce amendments while signing the committee report. Cayetano noted that she would interpellate and Tulfo said he would seek amendments to include Philippine inland gaming operations and other forms of online gaming.
Hontiveros said: “For almost three years now, I have been calling for POGOs to be kicked out of the country. So we fully support Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian in the committee report to ban POGOs forever. I have always believed that a total ban on POGO is right and just.”
She added: “I hope it gets through Congress soon. If we got anything out of it, it was nothing compared to the disaster they have caused. No one will regret it when we drive them out, finally.”
The opposition senator asserted that POGOs have only brought into the country crimes and lewdness against women. “We ourselves in the Senate committee on women have investigated their involvement in prostitution, corruption, especially in the ‘pastillas scam,’ human trafficking and recently, that POGOs are also being equipped as legal cover for scam hubs,” she said.
Ejercito signed the committee report with a few notes to clarify that he is “not for POGO and just wants to soften the impact of its cancellation by phase-out instead.”
He said: “I am for a two- to three-year phase-out so as not to create a bad perception that the legislature made POGO legal only to withdraw after a few years abruptly. We would seek an amendment. The perception would be inconsistency in policies in the international community.”
The senator noted that legal POGOs should be given a phase-out period, but illegal ones, which are the cause of crimes, should be banned immediately.
He added: “There has to be preparation for those who will be displaced to have alternative employment and businesses related to POGOs to find alternative markets or businesses, like real estate and others as well. Canceling them abruptly might have consequences on various industries related to it.”
Gatchalian said that while the impact of the phase-out of POGOs from the Philippine economy is not that significant, the crimes related to POGOs, especially human trafficking and scams, damage the image and reputation of the country.
Gatchalian cited a report from the Philippine National Police (PNP) that said the total number of victims of POGO-related crimes had already reached 4,355, out of which a total of 903 perpetrators were recorded from January 2017 to June 30 this year.
According to the report, crimes committed in such incidents include human trafficking, forcible abduction, homicide, illegal detention, kidnapping-for-ransom, theft, robbery-extortion, serious physical injuries, swindling and grave coercion.
Over the past months, Gatchalian has advocated for the closure of POGOs, maintaining that any revenue derived from the industry is not worth the massive social costs associated with POGO-related crimes.
Meanwhile, Gatchalian has urged the labor department to look for alternative employment placements for Filipino nationals employed by POGOs taking into account their skills and capabilities with the possibility of being absorbed by other industries such as Information Technology Business Process Outsourcing (IT-BPOs) and manufacturing through proper coordination.
He also urged the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to cancel and revoke the working visas issued to foreign nationals employed in the POGO industry and implement their deportation following immigration rules and regulations.