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Suspend all Pogo operations until gov't irons out regulation – Villanueva

Suspend all Pogo operations until gov't irons out regulation – Villanueva

MANILA, Philippines —Operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) should be suspended until the government irons out its policies in regulating them, Senator Joel Villanueva said Tuesday.

In an interview with reporters after a Senate hearing into the influx of illegal Pogo workers in the country, Villanueva lamented the apparent lack of coordination between concerned agencies in regulating and keeping tabs on these offshore gaming operators.

Issues concerning the influx of illegal foreign workers, billions of uncollected taxes, and the rise in criminality were raised during the hearing.

“I think the bottom line of what happened today speaks for itself. Isuspende muna ang lahat ng Pogo operations hangga’t hindi natin naaayos ang ating mga patakaran. Ang ating mga ahensya ng gobyerno ay hindi pa rin nakikta ang kanilang mga sarili kung papaano nila ire-regulate ito,” Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said.

(I think the bottom line of what happened today speaks for itself. Suspend all Pogo operations until we can determine how to properly regulate them. Until our government agencies get a grip on the situation.)

“Mula datos ng pagdagsa ng mga foreign workers dito sa bansa, iba-iba po ang data ng Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation), iba ang data ng inter-agency task force (on foreign workers), iba ang data ng DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment),” he added.

(Pagcor, the inter-agency task force on foreign workers, and DOLE presented conflicting data on the influx of these foreign workers in the country.)

Villanueva said that this issue seems to show how the government failed to properly regulate the Pogo industry.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told the Senate panel that his department discovered close to 7,000 illegal foreign employees working in licensed Pogos.

“They are working in legal Pogos without the necessary AEPs (alien employment permits),” Bello said.

In terms of the rise in criminality, Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) chief Joel Coronel said authorities have recorded several incidents involving foreign nationals working in Pogo operations or Pogo-related activities.

“Among the crimes reported, the most serious or heinous are kidnapping, serious illegal detention and kidnap for ransom,” he said.

“For 2019, our figures showed there were a total of 14 kidnapping incidents involving a total of 58 foreign nationals both victims and suspect, mostly Chinese nationals and Taiwanese nationals,” he added.

“Apart from that, another 56 recorded incidents involving other felonies, such as assaults, robbery, crimes against property, theft and other misdemeanors,” he added.

He further said recent data on crimes involving foreign Pogo workers revealed a spike in prostitution and human trafficking incidents.

Coronel said that in 2019, authorities have raided a total of nine prostitution dens resulting in the rescue of a total of 191 foreigners, consisting of mostly Chinese nationals.

From these operations, 58 Chinese and one Filipino were arrested, he noted.

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