Gatchalian files bill seeking to outlaw POGOs

Michelle Abad

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Gatchalian files bill seeking to outlaw POGOs

POGO WORKERS. 180 Chinese nationals having been caught working at Smart Web Technology POGO hub without the proper immigration documents and running an alleged prostitution den, are processed for their deportation to Shanghai on December 14, 2023.


Senator Sherwin Gatchalian points to 'various atrocities' linked to the POGO industry

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has filed a bill seeking to outlaw Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) following the industry’s links to various forms of crimes, and the outweighing economic costs over benefits.

Gatchalian files bill seeking to outlaw POGOs

On Tuesday, May 21, Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 2689 which sought to repeal the taxability of POGOs provided by Republic Act No. 11590, the “only law that acknowledges and legitimizes POGO operations in the Philippines.”

“Its main goal is ultimately to outlaw and prohibit offshore gaming operations in the Philippines,” Gatchalian wrote in his explanatory note.

Then-president Rodrigo Duterte had signed RA No. 11590 into law in September 2021. Duterte leaned close to China and often cited the economic benefits of allowing POGOs in the country.

In a statement on Friday, Gatchalian said that while the industry indeed brought in revenue and jobs, the country grappled with a “surge” in POGO-related crimes.

Over the years, law enforcement conducted raids of POGOs suspected of conducting human trafficking, cyber scam operations, and other crimes.

In the bill, Gatchalian pointed to some instances. One was a police raid in May 2023 involving Colorful and Leap Group in Clark Freeport Zone, where over 1,000 foreigners and Filipinos were allegedly forced to work in fraudulent cyber activities. The following month, Xinchuang Network Technology was raided in Las Piñas, where around 2,700 suspected victims of human trafficking were rescued.

Another raid cited was one in October 2023, when the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission shut down Smart Web Technology Corporation. The premises had a torture chamber and massage parlors allegedly being used for prostitution. Smart Web, which was licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, was also found to be involved in alleged labor trafficking, and crypto and love scam operations.

Other crimes POGOs have been linked to include kidnapping, murder, and money laundering. Gatchalian said that the “various atrocities” linked to the industry have generated a public outcry for a POGO ban.

Citing 2022 data from the Department of Finance, Gatchalian said that while POGOs generated economic benefits worth P133.7 to P144.5 billion annually, they also entailed a cost of P147.7 billion annually due to foregone potential investments and tourism revenues, alongside costs in enforcement and immigration.

This yielded a net cost of around P3.3 to P14 billion annually, equivalent to 0.01% to 0.06% of the gross domestic product, respectively.

“This means that POGO operations have brought more harm than good, as the economic costs greatly outweigh the benefits derived from such operations,” said Gatchalian.

In the first months of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration, then-finance secretary Benjamin Diokno expressed the need to discontinue POGO operations due to their “social cost.”

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A March 13 raid of a POGO in Bamban, Tarlac allegedly trafficking workers prompted a spotlight on Bamban Mayor Alice Guo, who faces scrutiny at the Senate over suspicions she may be a Chinese asset. The raid was also cited in Gatchalian’s bill.

Gatchalian was one of the senators who questioned Guo’s identity at the Senate hearings led by Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros. Guo denied she was involved in POGO Zun Yuan Technology Corporation’s operations – only that she had owned the land where the compound stood. (WATCH: Chinese spy? Senators flag inconsistencies in Mayor Alice Guo’s testimonies)

Six Chinese fugitives were among those rounded up in the March 13 raid. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.