DOF chief Remulla to meet with China envoy over deportation of 40,000 POGO employees

JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla disclosed that he is scheduled to meet with the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines and other officials today, Thursday, September 22, 2022, to discuss the planned deportation of at least 40,000 Chinese employees of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs), who may be staying in the country illegally following the closure of their firms.

The meeting between officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ) led by Remulla and Chinese embassy officials will be held at the DOJ’s main office in Manila, according to DOJ spokesperson Jose Dominic Clavano.

Clavano said it would be the first time Remulla and Chinese officials would meet and tackle the issues hounding POGO operations in the country.

“He will meet with the Chinese ambassador tomorrow [Thursday] afternoon to speak about the cancelled POGO companies as listed by the Pagcor [Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation]. There must be a coordinated effort between the two countries to bring them back to China given that they have no more basis to stay here in the Philippines,” Clavano said.

Clavano noted that there are 175 canceled POGO companies with varying number of employees, bringing estimated the number of Chinese nationals due for deportation to at least 40,000.

During Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance on the budget of the Department of Justice, Remulla noted that China observe protocols that needed to be followed before accepting the deportees, thus, the need to meet with Chinese embassy officials to ensure that these rules will be followed.

‘Logistical challenge’

Meanwhile, Bureau of Immigration spokesman Dana Krizia Sandoval admitted that the deportation of such a huge number of Chinese nationals would be a logistical challenge for the agency.

“We will, however, as in the past, coordinate with their embassy for the arrangements,” Sandoval said.

Gatchalian pushes POGO probe

Dismayed by lower-than-expected revenue collection from POGOs, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian is pushing for a Senate inquiry to measure the economic costs and benefits of POGO operations in the country.

The senator reminded “the government allowed POGOs in the country precisely for the purpose of generating additional revenue.”

“If we are not able to realize this, then we must have a careful review of POGO operations to determine whether they should remain in the country,” Gatchalian stressed.

He recalled news reports citing former Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III projecting in October 2021 that total revenue collections from POGOs for the year 2022 to 2023 could reach P76.2 billion.

However, recent data showed revenues from POGO operations in the country are not likely to even hover near this amount as revenue collection in the first quarter reached only P1.55 billion.

Also, tax collections from the industry reached only P3.91 billion in 2021 compared to P7.176 billion in 2020 and P6.424 billion in 2019.

Vowing to thoroughly review the legitimacy of POGOs in the country, he said the upcoming inquiry would also verify if it is really advantageous to the government.

Moreover, he added, “We will also verify if they are paying the right taxes, as well as how many most of them were allowed to illegally enter the country.”

“Aalamin natin kung nagbabayad ba sila ng tamang buwis at kung gaano karami ang nakakapasok na iligal sa bansa,” Gatchalian added.

Citing concerns “due to the growing incidence of crimes attributable to the POGO industry,” he noted, “both national and local authorities are ramping up their efforts to curb these crimes and maintain peace and order in the country, which entails additional costs for the country.”

He asserted, “Clearly, any economic benefit that we derive from POGO operations should substantially outweigh any social cost that we must bear in exchange for their presence in the country,” referring to the reported rise in criminality attributed to POGOs.

Ban POGOs–Sen. Binay

SEN. Nancy Binay, for her part, aired serious doubts POGOs are advantageous to the country, as the lawmaker even vowed to back a move to pass a law banning POGOs.

“Is it worth it?” Binay asked, citing growing concerns hosting foreign gambling operators is likely to backfire.

The senator affirmed she would have “no qualms supporting the move to ban POGOs if it poses no benefit to the country, noting reports they are even linked to illegal activities.”

“Kung hindi sulit ang kinikita mula sa POGO lalo pa’t dumarami ang krimen na konektado dito handa kami magpasa ng batas para sa total ban ng POGO,” Binay vowed.

In a news statement, she cited police reports connecting POGOs to rising cases of kidnappings, acts of violence, extortion and even murder with POGOs as victims.

The senator recalled a September 7 Philippine National Police report, noting it had recorded 27 kidnapping cases so far this year, 20 of which were POGO-related.

Binay added she is looking forward to the upcoming Thursday hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to measure the economic benefits of POGO operations vis-à-vis its social costs.

“Dapat pag aralan ang pros and cons ng operasyon ng POGO at tingnan kung kung may silbi ba ito sa bansa,” the senator said, Citing Secretary Diokno’s assurance the country can move forward without POGOs as it has already seen a decline in revenue generation.

It was recalled that during the Development Budget Coordination Committee briefing at the Senate, the finance chief cited how the total revenues from the industry dipped to an estimated P3.9 billion in 2021, down from the P7.2 billion recorded in the previous year.