No tax payments, no gaming. That sums up the Malacanang decision to bar Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) from resuming operations until they have settled their unpaid taxes.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque emphasized during a virtual presser that the government would not tolerate tax-evading POGOs.
On Wednesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said his office is now looking into reports that some POGOs have reopened despite their failure to pay the tax payments required by the government.
The Finance department’s probe began following Senator Joel Villanueva’s recent revelation that only two POGOs were able to settle their tax liabilities, but many more already resumed their operations.
The Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corp. (PAGCOR) in March suspended POGO operations due to the threat posed by COVID-19.
However, the government allowed them in May to reopen offshore gaming firms on condition that they first settle taxes and obtain clearance from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, pay fees required by PAGCOR, and shoulder the Covid-19 testing of its employees.
Only 30 percent of the POGO workforce is allowed to report for work.
Dominguez said his department is already monitoring the tax-evading POGOs that are reportedly operating amid the nationwide implementation of community quarantine.
There are 60 licensed POGO operators in the Philippines.
From 2016 to 2019, the revenues collected by PAGCOR from POGOs a ready reached over P18 billion.
Dominguez’s office has also estimated that the government would be able to collect up to P20 billion a year in corporate and personal income taxes from POGOs.
Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva yesterday challenged the Commission of Audit (COA) or the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) to name the 15 delinquent POGOs.
“PAGCOR and COA should publicly name the 15 delinquent POGOs. They do not have the right to remain anonymous,” said Villanueva, the Senate labor committee chair who spearheaded the Upper Chamber’s series of inquiries into the proliferation of illegal foreign workers in offshore gaming firms in the country.
“For those who have swindled the government, all the more that their identities be known,” he said.
The senator said he does not understand why COA and PAGCOR did not name these delinquent POGOs, considering what happened was akin to a “hit and run.”
“If names of owners of real estate with unpaid taxes are routinely published in newspapers, then why can’t the same treatment be extended to foreign gambling operators whose arrears are far bigger?” the senator from Bulacan said.
According to Villaneuva, he sees no reason why COA or PAGCOR should withhold the names of the POGOs who owe the government some P1.365 billion in unpaid license fees.
He noted that the government should not allow these 15 POGOs to deprive PAGCOR of much-needed revenues, half of which goes to the national coffers and a significant amount is used to fund public programs.
According to PAGCOR, the licenses of eight of the 15 delinquent POGOs have already been canceled, one is under suspension and three are under review.