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'No favoritism' in allowing POGOs amid lockdown – Roque

Malacañang insisted that the government did not show favoritism to Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) when it  allowed them to operate even under the coronavirus lockdown.

"No favoritism there. On the contrary, the equal protection clause says all those similarly situated must be treated alike," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said at the Laging Handa virtual press briefing on Saturday, May 2.

"Because POGOs are one kind of BPO (business process outsourcing), they must be allowed to open, be it under ECQ or GCQ," he continued.

ECQ refers to enhanced community quarantine while GCQ refers to a less strict form of quarantine, general community quarantine.

POGOs are now among the select types of industries that can operate even amid ECQ, the strictest form of quarantine imposed by the government.

Most of these allowed industries are deemed "essential," like food manufacturing, power and energy facilities, telecommunications, medical supplies, hygiene product manufacturers, and the like.

BPOs are also allowed to resume operations, as long as they require 50% of employees to work from home, and provide housing and shuttle services for employees that must work onsite.

POGOs, said Roque, are considered BPOs hence they can reopen.

What's with POGOs? The Phillippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) had earlier appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to reopen POGOs, as long as health protocols are in place.

This would help boost tax collection because regulatory agencies tax POGOs.

In 2019, tax collections from POGOs and service providers reached P6.42 billion. But the amount collected was still lower than the unpaid liabilities.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue issued 170 notices to erring POGOs in 2019, which amounted to a total of P27.35 billion in unpaid tax liabilities.

Roque said only POGOs with no outstanding tax liabilities would be allowed to resume operations. The money the government gets from POGOs would be used to fund efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

POGO employees must also undergo COVID-19 testing.

In his public addresses, Duterte frequently worried about the government's supply of cash to fund its anti-coronavirus efforts.

Government warnedLawmakers had warned against reopening POGOs during the lockdown. 

Senator Joel Villanueva said POGOs are a "high-risk" industry since it involved employees working in an enclosed area. Most also live in high-rise condominiums – dwellings where many residents share space.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, said the reopening of POGOs was fine as long as their personnel work from home.

He said POGOs should not be considered an essential industry.

"I would rather allow construction workers and farmers to go back to work," Recto had said. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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