Money laundering threat: Villanueva recommends suspending POGOs

MANILA, Philippines – Senate labor committee chairperson Joel Villanueva recommended the suspension of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) in the country, as money laundering risks increase and the government struggles to give even the most basic data on the industry.

"Hangga't hindi pa naaayos ang mga patakaran ng mga ahensiya ng gobyerno, ay hindi nila nakikita ang kanilang mga sarili paano i-operate ito," Villanueva said after the Senate hearing on the matter on Tuesday, February 11.

(Until the government agencies have not fixed the rules, they do not see themselves properly operating and regulating this industry.)

Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Director Mel Georgie Racela said during the hearing that the council's risk assessment saw increasing threats of money laundering and other fraudulent activities related to POGOs.

He also said that a total of P54 billion has gone in and out of the Philippines from POGOs, with a net inflow of only P7 billion. This means that POGOs' net inflow accounts for only 0.04% of the country's gross domestic product.

AMLC's figures are based on POGO transactions coursed through banks. Industry estimates peg POGOs' contribution to the economy at over P551 billion yearly.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police noted a 50% spike in crimes involving Chinese, some of which are directly involved in POGOs. (READ: A Chinese online gambling worker's plight in Manila)

For Villanueva, the economic benefits from the industry may not be worth the social costs.

Villanueva also slammed the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), as well as the inter-agency task force on POGOs for having different figures on the number of employees in the industry.

Pagcor said there are over 118,000 workers, while DOLE counted over 156,000. 

However, property consultancy firms have estimated the number of workers reaching as high as 400,000. (READ: Online gambling: Good for whose business?)

Taxation also proved to be a problem. While the BIR collected P5.1 billion in 2019, P27.4 billion in tax liabilities of errant POGOs remain uncollected.

Villanueva said he will have to sway other members of the Senate during a caucus to move to suspend POGOs in the country. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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