Dominguez clarifies resumption of POGOs not gov't priority
MANILA, Philippines – Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said allowing Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to open again is not a priority for the government as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Dominguez made the clarification during a virtual technical working group meeting of the House Defeat COVID-19 committee's economic cluster on Tuesday, April 21.
The Department of Finance (DOF) secretary explained that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases "briefly" discussed the reopening of POGOs after it was proposed by ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap in a statement as well as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) in a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte.
"This has been briefly discussed.... I just want to clarify that it wasn't discussed [in Malacañang] last night. This POGO issue came out I think a week ago at the request of Congressman Yap and I believe it was also a request of Pagcor. But it went to the IATF. That's my understanding," Dominguez said.
The DOF chief said it would be ultimately up to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to decide if POGOs would be allowed to resume operations in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
POGOs and other businesses, except for those providing essential goods and services, were ordered to suspend operations due to the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far infected 6,599 people in the Philippines.
Yap proposed on Monday, April 20, to allow the reopening of POGOs to give a "much-needed boost" to the country's tax collection.
"We need all the help that we can get right now. Hindi makakasama sa atin kung may dagdag tayong makukuhanan ng pera para magamit natin para sa mga kababayan nating nagugutom (It wouldn't hurt if we would have an additional source of funds to feed our hungry countrymen). Lives are at stake and we need to act fast," said the vice chairperson of the House committee on games and amusement.
But the online gaming industry has become notorious after a Senate investigation revealed POGOs' links to forged Philippine passports, money laundering, and sex trafficking.
Senators have also thumbed down the proposal to reopen POGOs, arguing the industry does not pay the right taxes.
China earlier urged the Philippines to halt all online gambling operations, after linking the industry to crimes like money laundering, kidnapping, and extortion.
In 2019, tax collections from POGOs and their service providers reached as much as P6.42 billion, as the DOF implemented a crackdown on tax-evading firms within the industry. But the amount collected was still lower than the unpaid liabilities.
The BIR had issued 170 notices to erring POGOs last year, with total unpaid tax liabilities equal to P27.35 billion. – Rappler.com