If legitimate Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) companies generated only two jobs for Filipinos out of every 10 available jobs in the sector last year, the trend could even be worse in illegal offshore gaming firms, according to Senator Joel Villanueva.
“If legitimate POGO companies in this sector employ few Filipinos, we can only surmise as to how worse it is in illegal POGOs,” said Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development. “The data we have now is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a grim picture for our labor force.”
As of December 2019, of the 118,239 workers in POGO establishments, eight out of 10 workers (82.3 percent) are foreigners, and the remaining two workers (17.7 percent) are Filipinos, data from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) showed. This trend exactly presents a clear problem from a labor policy perspective, Villanueva said in a statement.
Villanueva said he intends to scrutinize the relevant government data when the Senate labor committee resumes its long-running investigation into the influx of illegal foreign workers on Tuesday, February 11.
Of the 10 biggest POGO licensees, six companies have less than five percent Filipinos workers, according to a Pagcor report that Villanueva sought. Meanwhile, Pagcor reported to the labor department that only 153 of the 243 POGO-related establishments (63 percent) hire Filipino workers.
Citing reports from the labor department and the immigration bureau respectively, Villanueva also disclosed that more than nine out of 10 foreigners (91.34 percent) carrying alien employment permits (AEP), and over half of the holders of pre-arranged work visa are foreigners working in the POGO industry.
Other issues associated with the surge in offshore gaming operations include payment of correct taxes, rise in real estate prices for both residential and commercial property, increase in crimes involving foreign nationals, and even the entry of fugitives who work at POGOs.
The unhampered operations of the POGO industry highlight the country’s lack of a clear labor immigration policy which Villanueva hopes to flesh out at the Senate labor committee hearing.
As chair of the Senate labor committee, Villanueva spearheaded the public hearings into the issue in the 17th Congress after taking notice of a steady rise in reports showing an influx of illegal foreign workers in late 2016.
The committee inquiry uncovered a racket at a satellite office of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) where foreigners seeking to have their special work permits expedited pay P5,000 “without receipt” in exchange for the document. Immigration top brass sacked the entire staff of the satellite office, including security guards manning the door, after the investigation established everyone had a hand into the scam.
It likewise prompted Villanueva to question the BI’s authority to issue work permits, a mandate vested with the Department of Labor and Employment, which has the technical capacity to vet the entry of foreign workers. The senator sought an end to the BI’s practice through an introduction of a special provision in its 2019 budget, but it was among the line items vetoed by the President in April last year.
Meanwhile, the government organized an inter-agency task force to consolidate data and efforts to stem the rise of illegal foreign workers, and to ensure that POGOs and POGO service providers and their employees pay their correct taxes. Initial estimates of the Department of Finance pegged potential tax collection from the sector ranging from P2.5 to 3 billion a month.