To close or not to close, that is the question.
As the acerbic debates on whether to shut down the controversial Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) rage on, an association of POGO service providers warned that more than 23,000 Filipino workers might lose their jobs if the government sealed the fate of the POGOs.
And while the Bureau of Immigration (BI) began processing the deportation of 48,000 unlicensed Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) foreign workers, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda urged the government to treat the affected alien workers like other foreigners overstaying in the country.
In a joint media briefing on Monday, the Association of Service Providers and POGOs (ASPAP) appealed to government to carefully weigh the sector’s economic contributions including potential job losses before deciding on the fate of the online gaming sector.
Composed of 16 PAGCOR-licensed POGOs and 68 service providers, ASPAP members employ a total of 23,118 Filipinos (direct hired – 11,776; indirect hired – 11,342) and 17,130 foreign nationals.
“We’re proud to say that our group employs more Pinoys than foreigners,” ASPAP representative lawyer. Michael Danganan said.
Since ASPAP represents less than one-half of PAGCOR’s 35 POGO licensees, he said the number of Filipinos employed by the entire POGO sector “is definitely much higher.”
Sharing more details on ASPAP members’ operations, lawyer Paul Bongco said the group has 129 offices for customer relations service, IT support, live studio streaming, and functions. These offices occupy a total floor area of 407,841 square meters, mostly found in Parañaque, Makati, Cavite, Pasay, Pampanga, Manila and Mandaluyong.
ASPAP data showed about 31.4 percent of their Filipino workers serve as team leaders or supervisors, administrative assistants, sport-book handlers, kitchen staff, security officers, finance assistants, accounting assistants, and 60 other jobs.
Bongco said ASPAP members share most Filipinos’ concerns over the reported rise in crime incidence in the POGO sector. He said, however, that it’s unfair to blame the whole industry for the illegal activities of a few.
He said ASPAP members want to do business quietly, take care of their employees, and pay their corresponding share in taxes.
“We thus appeal to our government—President [Ferdinand] Marcos and our senators in particular—not to look at the POGO sector as the enemy, but rather an ally in nation building,” Bongco said.
Apart from employment, he said industry data showed that in the last six years POGOs contributed more than P61 billion to the government in terms of taxes and fees paid to PAGCOR, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Bureau of Immigration.
Real estate analyst David Leechiu also estimated that if POGOs were shut down, the Philippine economy could lose as much as P200-billion annually from taxes and fees, office space and residential lease rentals, meals, retail shopping, electricity and others.
ASPAP was established in 2020 in response to the onslaught of COVID-19. To help in government’s pandemic response, the group donated P213 million in cash; P24 million in relief goods; 300,000 test kits; 2.5 million surgical masks, and other hospital equipment.
Salceda, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means and considered the lower chamber’s resident economist, pointed out that “there are laws on the proper handling of illegal aliens.”
“As I have repeatedly asserted, let us just follow the law as is. We have enough laws to deport illegal workers,” Salceda said
According to the legislator, “we have enough laws to protect people from human trafficking. Let them operate to the fullest extent.”
The respected lawmaker-economist reminded the public that there were thousands of Filipino overseas Filipino workers that were illegally working in other countries.
Salceda explained that there could be as many as 300,000 undocumented OFWs in the United States, at least 30,000 in the Netherlands, some 80,000 in Italy, and as much as 300,000 in Saudi Arabia.
“Any arbitrary law against undocumented workers here in the Philippines,” said Salceda, “will reflect poorly on us, and will undermine the welfare of undocumented workers among our own compatriots.”
“So, let us allow the law to take its course, consistent with humanitarian considerations and international laws and convention.”
The Bicol solon earlier warned that banning POGOs would drive the industry and its workers underground.
“Those who have been operating illegally will get more illegal, they will go underground. And you will just worsen the so-called social cost of the POGOs,” Salceda stressed.