Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday questioned full-page ads bought by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to explain Philippine offshore gaming operators or POGOs.

The full-page ads, titled “The Truth About POGO: A Primer,” which appeared on the Philippine Star and the Manila Times, said Pagcor took over the regulation of POGOs in 2016 to drive out illegal operations.

Pagcor also said POGOs have remitted P20.8 billion in fees to the government since 2016, apart from taxes, which reached P14.3 billion in 2019 alone.

It claimed the influx of Chinese workers had been “sensationalized” and that POGOs were not spy networks or vehicles for prostitution, criminality and money laundering.

Hontiveros, who exposed the “pastillas scam” that allowed illegal workers to go past immigration in exchange for bribes, said in a statement:

“This full-page ad on POGOs appeared on the Manila Times and Philippine Star today. Is PAGCOR doing PR work for POGO now? PAGCOR is a regulatory body. Why is it lobbying for the POGO industry?”

“Nakakabahala na mukhang may intent to dismiss the investigations the Senate has done with regard to POGOs’ links to prostitution, human trafficking, and money laundering!”

Drilon: ‘POGOs not BPOs’

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said treating POGOs as business process outsourcing (BPO) would be detrimental to the country’s efforts to collect franchise tax owed to the government in 2019 by majority of the 60 licensed online gaming operators.

The argument was used by Palace spokesman Harry Roque as justification for allowing the resumption of partial operations of POGOs despite quarantine measures.

“To say that POGOs are part of our BPO industry is a dangerous argument. It has far-reaching implications that will put the government at a grave disadvantage,” Drilon said in a separate statement.

“The POGOs can use the statement as a defense against paying the 5 percent franchise tax being imposed by the government. It will also put at risk the license fee being collected by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation,” he said.

Under the law, Drilon said, the authority to operate and conduct games of chance is centralized in the Pagcor. Entities including POGOs can engage in the gambling business only upon grant of a license or franchise from Pagcor. To do that, they must pay the franchise tax, he said.

“If POGOs are considered BPOs, then there would be no need to pay the franchise tax and the license fee.”

“Hindi na nga nagbabayad ng buwis. Ngayon gusto pa yatang bigyan ng incentives tulad ng totoong BPOs.”

In the last hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor on the influx of POGO workers, the Bureau of Internal Revenue said that most of the 60 licensed POGOs owed the government around P50 billion in unpaid taxes in 2019, a significant portion of which pertains to the unpaid franchise tax, Drilon noted. (PressONE.ph)