In a significant development, a substantial majority of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the Philippines has signed a report endorsing the ban of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, or POGOs. This move comes as part of a broader effort to address escalating concerns about criminal activities associated with the industry.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the committee, emphasized the importance of this decision, citing its potential to uphold “peace and order” and sustain the country’s economic growth. Alongside Senator Gatchalian, notable senators, including Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, and others, have joined forces by endorsing Committee Report No. 136, which calls for the prohibition of POGOs.
The committee report, which advocates for the ban of POGOs, is now set to be presented for deliberation in the Senate plenary. Senator Gatchalian has indicated that the primary point of debate will revolve around the timeline for the phase-out – whether it should be immediate or extended over three months. Notably, Senator Gatchalian personally advocates for an immediate ban, emphasizing the urgency of the matter.
With the submission of the committee report, it is anticipated that the removal of POGOs from the Philippine landscape will become a reality “sooner than later.”
Senator Gatchalian highlighted the pressing need for this action, stating, “This is an important step to curb the spread of crimes originating from certain POGO companies.” He further elaborated that data collected over recent months unequivocally demonstrates that criminals exploit POGOs for various illicit activities, including human trafficking, cryptocurrency investments, and love scams.
While many senators are aligned in their support for the POGO ban, there are nuances in their positions. Senators Pimentel, Ejercito, and Hontiveros have signed the committee report with intentions to interpellate and introduce amendments. Senator Cayetano has expressed her intent to interpellate, while Senator Tulfo aims to seek amendments that encompass Philippine inland gaming operations and other forms of online gaming.
Senator Hontiveros, a staunch advocate for the complete ban of POGOs, emphasized the negative impact of these entities, linking them to a range of crimes, including prostitution, corruption, human trafficking, and scams.
Senator Ejercito, while not in favor of POGOs, prefers a phased-out approach over abrupt termination to avoid international policy perception inconsistencies. He argued that illegal POGOs, the culprits behind most crimes, should face immediate bans, while legal ones should undergo a gradual phase-out.
Senator Gatchalian underscored the importance of considering the social costs associated with POGO-related crimes. He cited data from the Philippine National Police (PNP), revealing a significant number of victims and perpetrators in POGO-related crimes. These incidents encompassed crimes such as human trafficking, abduction, theft, and more. Gatchalian emphasized that any revenue generated from POGOs pales in comparison to the immense social costs.
As the debate on the fate of POGOs unfolds in the Philippines, it reflects the country’s commitment to addressing the concerns surrounding the industry and safeguarding its citizens from the adverse consequences of illicit activities associated with POGOs.
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