Senate wrapping up POGO inquiry, mounts last hearing


SENATE probers are set to wrap up their inquiry into the issues surrounding the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), amid calls from some quarters to completely ban them despite strict regulatory measures taken in the past three years by three line agencies and local government units.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, probe chairman, said a committee report is set to be circulated for signatures of senators prior to submission to the plenary to consider the need to craft remedial legislation.

“[There is a] committee report [already],” Gatchalian said, adding: “we already have recommendations that we will circulate to probe panel members this week.” He said in a radio interview on Sunday, “our target is Tuesday, latest Wednesday.”

The chief POGO prober recalled that in December, as the senators were reviewing the draft committee report, they saw a “new angle” but did not elaborate, saying only, speaking partly in Filipino, that “we saw something new that we. Want to  tackle in tomorrow’s [Monday] committee hearing.”

Added Gatchalian: “In the spirit of fairness and transparency, mas magandang ilabas ito sa pagdinig [it is better to surface [this new issue] in the hearing,” adds Gatchalian. He explained that there are multifaceted provisions on Republic Act 11590, the law covering POGOs, involving “tax payments and governance.”

He recalled that “when we reviewed the Committee Report and compared it with the law,” the senators saw several points to question, “particularly with the third party auditor, and we wish to hear from PAGCOR and the third-party auditor and other resource persons the issues about this.”

Moreover, Gatchalian said they saw “a lot of points in the law that must be discussed.”  This includes the income tax that foreign workers under POGOs must pay.

Reminded that both the Department of Finance and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) acknowledged that the POGO issue also “involves social cost,” he aired a warning: “hindi sulit yung social cost, yung masamang dulot ng POGO doon sa kita mula dito. [The social cost is not commensurate to the benefits. The evil wrought by the POGO presence is not offset by the gains].”

The senator also recalled that “actually, as early  at the first hearing, the DOF was very firm that POGO should be banned. So, he added, the senators need to get their arguments.

`Earlier hearings tackled the possible dire impact on the property sector and the entire economy of an abrupt, total ban on POGOs; the crimes being fueled by POGO-related parties or entities; the safeguards taken by labor and immigration agencies, as well as LGUs, to guard against human trafficking, and Pagcor’s roadmap for the POGO sector.

Invited by the Gatchalian committee to Monday’s hearing are: Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Bureau of Internal Revenue Deputy Commissioner Marissa Cabreros, Pagcor chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco, Labor and Employment Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Emilio Aquino, Anti-Money Laundering Council executive director Atty. Matthew David, and the mayors of Makati, Paranaque and Manila, respectively: Abby Binay, Eric Olivarez and Honey Lacuna.