Sen. Joel Villanueva has called on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to keep a closer watch on companies seeking to run offshore gaming operations in the country as the Philippines grapples with the problem of illegal foreign workers.
In a statement, Villanueva said it appeared the Pagcor merely issues licenses to virtual casinos, formally called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO), and does not keep abreast with the actual operations of these firms, which fall under their regulatory supervision.
“We are puzzled by the apparent lack of regulatory supervision that the Pagcor should be exercising. It cannot even produce basic data, such as the number of employees of their POGO licensees,” Villanueva said.
“Ayon sa resource person ng Pagcor, sinabi nila na may 58 POGO licensees sa buong bansa. Ngunit mahirap po atang paniwalaan iyon, dahil libu-libo na ang nahuhuli ng ating mga awtoridad tulad ng Bureau of Immigration (BI), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), at Philippine National Police (PNP) na iligal na dayuhang manggagawa,” the official continued.
“Even the Department of Finance is starting to be alarmed about the extent of POGOs here because we may be forgoing a lot of revenue from these firms and their employees. We join the DOF’s intensified campaign to ensure that proper taxes are collected from these firms and their employees.”
At the Senate inquiry held last month, Villanueva also took issue on Pagcor’s different treatment of employees employed in physical casinos as opposed to employees in Pagcor-licensed POGOs, considering that their nature of work falls under the regulations prescribed by Pagcor.
According to their manual, Pagcor requires employees who are directly involved in gaming operations to secure a Gaming Employment License (GEL) before being allowed to work at a casino. A GEL ensures an individual’s fitness to work at a gaming facility and their track record as a casino worker.
For foreign employees to be issued a GEL, they must secure an alien employment permit (AEP) from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), which regulates the entry of foreign workers. DOLE vets foreign workers seeking employment here in the country to ensure there are no capable, able, and willing Filipinos to do the job.
Asked at the hearing whether the rule on GEL applies to POGO workers, the Pagcor representative answered in the negative.
“Why is there a double standard when it comes to the issuance of Gaming Employment Licenses? Since POGO operations are based here and employees are involved in the actual gaming process, GELs should be issued to each employee as mandated by prevailing gaming regulations,” Villanueva said.
“Malinaw po na dapat lahat ng empleyado ng Pagcor licensees ay dapat kumuha ng GEL, kasama na ang mga nagtatrabaho sa POGO.”
One factor that has driven the increase of illegal foreign workers is the rise of POGO in the country, immigration chief Jaime Morente said at the Feb. 21 hearing.
Morente disclosed at the hearing that immigration operatives busted over 200 Chinese nationals at a POGO in Makati City on Feb. 18 for working without proper permits.
On the other hand, the NBI shared that it had arrested and charged 167 foreign workers for various offenses in 2018. Of the number, 114 of the foreign workers were involved in illegal online gambling.
Villanueva said the committee is looking at completing the report on its inquiry when session resumes in May. But that does not preclude the possibility of reopening the inquiry should it be necessary, the official pointed out.