MANILA - Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Tuesday lauded the stance taken by a Filipino-Chinese anti-crime group for its strong support to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country due to their huge tax revenue shortfall and involvement in crimes.
Barbers' long-held crusade against POGOs started way back in November 2019 when he assailed the online gambling firms for undermining the government's war against illegal drugs, graft and corruption, prostitution, human trafficking, money laundering, and gambling-related crimes.
In a statement, Barbers, who is also chair of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, said the "much-ballyhooed" claim by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) that POGO operations would provide at least PHP37 billion annually in much-needed tax revenues is a "complete or total failure from start to present".
Based on reports, the taxes collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue from POGOs and their service providers went down by 46 percent from PHP7.1 billion in 2020 to PHP3.19 billion as of present.
He also said the loosely-regulated influx of a large number of Chinese tourists-turned-POGO workers in the country is now creating a nightmare for immigration and law enforcement authorities since many of them are overstaying, with expired visas and work permits.
"Sa ngayon, di natin alam o tiyak kung ilan talaga ang bilang ng mga dumating na POGO workers, na sa una ay tourist lang at later on binigyan ng DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) ng working permits. Mahigit tatlong taon na sila nago-operate sa ating bansa pero di natin alam kung ilan ang mga bumalik na sa China, ilan ang naiwan, ilan ang overstaying, ang may expired visa at working permit. Wala pa tayong datos nito mula sa (For now, we don't exactly now how many POGO workers arrived in the country as tourists and were later on given working permits by the DOLE. They have been operating in the country for over three years but we don't know how many of them have actually returned to China, how many remain here, how many are overstaying or how many have expired visas and working permit. We don't have this data from the) Bureau of Immigration," he said.
PAGCOR data showed there were 32 POGOs and 127 service providers allowed to operate in the country, but some of these online-gambling firms are granting illegal sub-licenses, through which Chinese and other nationals from Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and other countries were subjected to human trafficking.
On the issue of legalizing POGO operations in the country, Barbers said his crusade and position still stand because "it is just like legalizing an entity which is banned and declared illegal from its source (China)."
"Kung papayagan natin na maging legal ang POGO sa ating bansa na deklaradong illegal sa pinanggalingan nito (China), ano na ang magiging tawag sa ating mga Pilipino? Payag ba tayo na mag-import ng tao at kumpanya na gumagawa ng illegal na bagay, at gawing legal ang illegal dito para lang kumita ng pera? (If we will allow POGOs to be legal in the country and yet we know that these are illegal in its country of origin, what will we become as Filipinos? Are we fine with importing people and companies that do illegal acts and legalize these just to earn revenues?)" he said.
He added that even Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian himself said "gambling, whether online or overseas, committed by Chinese citizens is illegal."
As early as November 2019, the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group's data indicated 31 kidnap for ransom (KFR) cases involving Chinese nationals from 2017 to 2019, and most of the cases transpired in the vicinity of the so-called "Entertainment City" where casinos and online gambling hubs are located.
Aside from abduction cases, crimes such as murder, prostitution, torture, extortion, usury, suicide, and illegal drug trafficking involving Chinese nationals transpired in the same period.
There were also reports of an alarming rise in crimes involving "captive" Chinese POGO workers and their employer-handlers.
Based on reports, it was alleged that "maverick" online "keyboard warriors" are either seeking higher pay and wanted to leave their current employer or are being pirated by their fellow POGO operator competitors.
Those who wanted to leave or escape are being punished extremely. (PNA)