Solon: Tax payment of licensed POGOs to augment anti-COVID-19 funds

A House leader on Monday reiterated his appeal to the government, particularly the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), to compel payment of some P50 billion in unpaid taxes by licensed Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) and use the funds in the fight against the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus in the country.

“If only the PAGCOR and BIR could compel these POGOs fromnpaying their tax due of P50 billion in 2019, that would be sufficient enough for use in the fight against COVID19. There is no more need for Congress to enact laws and for the government to secure loans to fight the virus,” said Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, who chairs the House committee on games and amusement.

Barbers issued the statement in the wake of reports emanating from PAGCOR that local POGO operators have donated P150 million in the government’s campaign to stop the COVID19.

“While we appreciate and are grateful for the much-needed donation, it is just a miniscule part of the taxes they owed to the Philippine government. Perhaps now is the perfect timing for them to pay their taxes. And that’s P50 billion. Let us not be fooled by a fox in a sheep’s clothing,” he said.

During a Senate hearing last February 10, Atty. Sixto Dy, Jr. from the BIR Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, according to Barbers, said majority of the 60 licensed POGO operators failed to pay an estimated P50 billion in withholding income and franchise taxes in 2019.

“Aside from non-payment of billions of pesos in taxes, these POGOs still do not erase the social ills brought about by their presence here in our country,” Barbers said.

These POGO operations, he said, could be used by Chinese drug and other crime syndicates as tool for money laundering, aside from other illegal activities such as kidnap for ransom, prostitution, human trafficking, murder, online fraud, tax fraud, drug trafficking, among others.

Barbers said the Department of Health (DoH) and various private and government hospitals in the country, including doctors, nurses and other concerned health workers badly need funds to procure medical protective gears, testing kits, among others, to help them in their jobs to help prevent the spread of coronavirus-19 (COVID-19).

On the issue of the ongoing construction of POGO hubs in Clark in Pampanga and Kawit, Cavite, Barbers reiterated his call for PAGCOR to cancel the permits and shut down these self-contained hubs.

“Apparently, there are reports that most construction workers, including architects and engineers in these hubs, are Chinese.

Baka naman may covert spying activity na dyan or hindi kaya gumagawa na ng military facility in the guise of building housing casino operations,” he said.

At present, PAGCOR has granted 60 licenses to Chinese-owned POGOs, while there are reports that some 200 other ‘colorum’ POGOs are still operating in the country.

Based on official reports, the government has allowed the entry of some 500,000 Chinese ‘visitors’ in the country, with 300,000 of them now reportedly working in various POGO centers all over the country.

Sen. Richard Gordon warned that there is a ‘creeping invasion” of Chinese nationals in the country in the wake of reports that many of them are actually Chinese military men working under the guise of POGO workers.

“The estimated personnel strength of our military is 130,000 while the national police is of same figure. That means that these POGO workers, if they are really Chinese military men, far outnumber the total strength of our military and police personnel.

Wala pang real invasion ‘yan, outnumbered na ang tropa natin,” said Barbers.