THE Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development has set as a priority an investigation on the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) industry when legislative session resumes, its Chairman said.

Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva said in a phone message Tuesday that among the concerns the committee will tackle is “the inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the unusual influx of illegal foreign workers in the country, especially in the POGO and POGO-related industry.”

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) reported that 111,583 Alien Employment Permits were issued in 2019; of which 83,764 were issued to POGO-related establishments.

DoLE also noted that out of 118,239 registered workers in the industry, 97,283 are foreign workers, as of Dec. 10.

Mr. Villanueva had earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 67 to also look into unregistered POGO workers and the industry’s failure to remit taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

The Department of Finance has estimated that some P24 billion is foregone annually for every 100,000 unregistered POGO workers.

A more recent concern is abductions related to the gaming sector, mostly involving Chinese nationals. The Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group reported 36 casino-related kidnappings from January to November 2019.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto and Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian have likewise filed resolutions to investigate the POGO industry to ultimately ensure its compliance with policies on security, immigration and taxes among others.

“We want to investigate whether the benefits of the industry outweigh its direct and indirect adverse effects, such as rising criminality, threat of money laundering, increasing property prices, among others,” Mr. Villanueva also said.

Mr. Recto, under Senate Resolution No. 85, raised security concerns over initial plans to transfer POGOs to designated hubs in Cavite and Pampanga.

Resolutions seeking to investigate the POGO industry are likewise pending at the House Committee on Labor and Employment; while a measure that proposes to tax gaming firms has been declared a priority by the House Committee on Ways and Means.

The committee, led by Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of Albay’s second district, has approved House Bill No. 5777, which among others will tax alien individuals working in offshore gaming firms. It is expected to generate P20 billion to 45 billion. No counterpart measure has so far been filed in the Senate.

Congress is currently on a month-long break and is set to resume work beginning Jan. 20. — Charmaine A. Tadalan