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Palace: POGOs tax revenues to bankroll gov’t response to COVID-19

By Genalyn Kabiling

All tax revenues from offshore gaming operations should be used to bankroll the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, particularly the social amelioration program for affected sectors, Malacañang said on Monday.

The proposal was made by presidential spokesman Harry Roque in a bid to augment state resources to help people who lost their jobs as well as others severely hit by the quarantine restrictions.

Harry Roque (ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Harry Roque (ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The government recently allowed the partial reopening of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), now considered under the business process outsourcing industry, subject to certain conditions. POGOs were among the gaming establishments previously prohibited during the Luzon-wide lockdown.

“Mayroon pang buwis na binabayaran ng mga POGOs. Ang latest figure na nakita ko is P22 billion sa 2 taon, so that means 1 billion a month. So sa akin naman, if we can get this 1.6 billion a month para sa COVID, sa darating na linggo makikita natin ‘yung mga pagkukulang na sa ating mga binigay na budget ng Kongreso para lalong-lalo na doon sa social amelioration program (POGOs pay taxes. The latest figure I saw is P22 billion in two months so that means around P1 billion a month. If we can get this P1.6 billion a month for COVID, we will see in the coming week the shortage in the budget given by Congress especially for the social amelioration program),” Roque said in a television interview on Monday.

“Ang aking mungkahi po at sana nga po ay matupad ito ay lahat po ng kita ng POGO mapunta, hindi lamang sa COVID 19, kundi lalong lalo na doon sa social amelioration program na inaantay ng marami nating kababayan habang sila ay naghihirap dahil hindi nga makapagtrabaho dahil sa ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) (I propose that all POGO revenues will go not only to COVID-19, but especially to the social amelioration program for our countrymen who are suffering because they cannot work due to the ECQ),” he said

He said these tax revenues from POGOs are on top of the P600 million in monthly regulatory fees being paid to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). Such regulatory fees, he said, may also be used for the government’s coronavirus response.

As the quarantine regulations forced many companies to temporarily close or scale down their operations, the government recently launched various programs to help affected sectors. One of the programs is the P200-billion emergency subsidy program for 18 million low-income families for the months of April and May. Another five million households will be added to the list of target beneficiaries this month, according to authorities.

President Duterte earlier said the government will continue to find ways to boost resources, including borrowing money and selling state properties, after admitting funds are already running low.

Senate probe

Malacañang has left to the discretion of lawmakers on whether or not to conduct a probe into the controversial resumption of POGO operations during the quarantine period. Roque, however, reminded the lawmakers about the government’s funding requirements for the aid program for people suffering amid the pandemic.

“Katungkulan, pribilehiyo, at call yan ng Senado kung gusto nilang imbestigahan. Pero ang tanong nga po habang walang bakuna, walang gamot sa COVID-19, saan po natin kukunin ang ibibigay nating tulong sa ating mga kababayan na hindi nga makapagtrabaho dahil ito lang ang pamamaraan para mapabagal ang pagkalat ng sakit (It’s the duty, privilege, and call of the Senate if they want to investigate. But the question is, while there is no vaccine, no cure for COVID-19, where will we get the resources for the help needed by our countrymen who are unable to work because this is the only way to slow down the spread of the disease?),” he asked.

Roque also brushed aside the statement of a group of BPO companies that POGOs are not part of their industry.

He explained that the government is merely observing regulations on the operations of POGOs in the country when it allowed them to open. POGOs have an offshoring nature of business since it caters to gamblers abroad, he said.

“Hindi po para sa kanila magsabi niyan kasi mayroon tayo na sinusunod na definition ng POGO sang-ayon sa mga guidelines lalong-lalo na sa mga nagbibigay ng tax incentives (It’s not for them to say that because we are following the definition of POGOs based no the guidelines from those giving tax incentives),” he said about the statement issued by the IT- Business Process Association of the Philippines.

“Kapag ikaw ay nagbibigay ng serbisyo para sa isang gawain na hindi naman nangyayari dito sa bansa natin, yan ay BPO. Kaya nga ang tawag diyan outsource business processing di ba ho. Ang ina-outsource ng BPOs sa kanilang mga service providers ay ‘yung IT, ‘yung computer requirements doon sa ginagawa sa online gambling na hindi naman nangyayari sa Pilipinas kung hindi sa abroad, sa China (If you provide service for an activity outside the country, that’s BPO. It’s called outsource business processing. BPOs and service providers outsource IT, computer requirements for the online gambling abroad, in China, not in the Philippines),” he said.

‘Hindi tayo marunong mag-Mandarin’

Roque also said POGOs employ mostly Chinese nationals since Mandarin is used in their operations. He claimed that not all Filipinos know Mandarin.

“Bakit maraming dayuhan? Eh kasi outsource nga . BPO nga. Ang lengguwahe na ginagamit nila sa computer eh chinese, mandarin. So, walang Pilipino makakabigay na ganyang trabaho dahil hindi tayo marunong mag-Mandarin (So why are there many foreign workers? Because they are BPOs. The language used in the computers is Chinese, Mandarin so no Filipino can do that job because we don’t know how to speak Mandarin),” he said.

PAGCOR earlier announced that POGOs must meet certain conditions, such as the payment of taxes and observance of health protocols, before being allowed to resume partial operations. The decision was made reportedly to help the government raise funds to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.

“PAGCOR allowed the reopening of POGO operations under Information and Communication Technology-Business Process Outsourcing (ICT-BPO) exemption. Businesses classified under ICT-BPO are those that are involved in non-primary business and functions, which will be allowed to operate under the existing community quarantine rule,” PAGCOR said.

The conditions imposed on POGOs includes updating and settlement of tax liabilities as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, updating payments for any regulatory fee, license fee, performance bond or penalties due to PAGCOR, remittance of regulatory fees for the month of April, and must pass the readiness to implement safety protocols.

POGOs will also be required to operate only with 30 percent workforce per shift, provide shuttle services for employees, conduct temperature checks upon office entry, practice social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, as well as impose the wearing of mask at all times.

From 2016 to March 2020, PAGCOR has collected P20.83 billion from POGOs in regulatory and other related fees.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/05/04/palace-pogos-tax-revenues-to-bankroll-govt-response-to-covid-19/)

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