Politics

Another bill banning POGOs filed in House

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By Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio andJohn Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

MEMBERS of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives filed on Tuesday a bill seeking to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the country even as Senator Mary Grace N. Poe-Llamanzares called for government action to do the same.

House Bill (HB) No. 10525 seeks to revoke all licenses granted to POGOs by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and criminalize its operations by imposing imprisonment of up to 10 years for gaming agents who would continue to operate amid its ban.

“POGOs have brought with them a swarm of crimes as testified by countless police raids — rape, murder, illegal recruitment, human trafficking, prostitution, illegal detention, inhumane labor practices, money laundering, and immigration bribery, among many others,” Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said in a statement.

In the Senate, Ms. Poe-Llamanzares said POGOs need to be banned to spare the government from spending public funds on raids, saying these could be better used for social services programs.

“The scale and breadth of illegal POGO operations in the country have become appalling and costly for Filipinos,” she said. “This (banning POGOs) will not only bring a permanent halt to their illegal activities, but will also plug the utilization of government resources, which could have otherwise been spent on useful social services for our people.”

Another senator cited reports that Chinese military uniforms were found in a POGO hub raided in Porac, Pampanga last week.

“The implications of these unforms should send chills down our spine,” Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is also leading a Senate probe into POGOs and their links to syndicates, said in a statement.

She said POGOs have become a breeding ground for crime and a national security threat, calling for the President to ban these gambling outfits.

Last week, senators urged President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to ban POGOs as it is a risk to national security due to alleged links to crime syndicates and spies.

About 4,000 victims have been involved in POGO-related crimes in the first half of 2023, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said last October.

Around 60 POGO-related killings had been monitored by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, it told before a Senate panel in May.

“Their supposed economic benefits have also been negligible compared to the social costs they have inflicted on our people and communities,” Ms. Castro said.

In February, PAGCOR Chairman Alejandro H. Tengco testified before a House panel hearing that his agency generated P5.2 billion in license fees from POGOs last year.

PAGCOR also generated P860.9 million from POGOs for the first quarter of 2024, contributing 3.86% of the total P25.24-billion income of the agency so far this year, according to the gaming regulator’s statement.

In a separate statement, Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said he does not support a sweeping ban of POGOs in the country as PAGCOR is “significantly improving law enforcement” on offshore gaming operations.

PAGCOR has improved its revenue collections despite fewer licensees, Mr. Salceda said, as the gaming regulator had reduced the number of officially sanctioned POGOs.

HB No. 5082, a similar bill seeking the ban of POGOs, was passed last February by the House Committee on Games and Amusement.