MANILA, Philippines — Government must first resolve the issues hounding the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) industry before allowing it to resume operations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, House Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. said on Wednesday.

The lawmaker was responding to an appeal made on Tuesday by ACT-CIS party list Rep. Eric Yap for Pogos to be allowed to continue operations, saying this would mean extra income and resources that could be used to battle COVID-19.

But Abante noted that exemptions to the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) cover only essential industries like food, manufacturing and sales.

not essential

, in all shapes and forms, is not essential, according to the Manila representative.

“It is a vice — one that any country can do without, whether it be the Philippines or China,” Abante said.

is illegal in China, but POGOs target Chinese offshore gamblers and employ workers from the mainland.

While the industry has flourished in the Philippines, it has come under scrutiny for reportedly failing to pay some P50 billion in license fees and income taxes.

In a virtual meeting of the technical working group of the Defeat COVID-19 special House committee, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the country’s economic managers would study Yap’s proposal.

Abante, however, said the government might be sending conflicting signals to the public regarding ECQ if it allowed Pogo employees to return to work.

“Our countrymen will ask: ‘Why are these foreigners being allowed to work while we cannot?’” the Manila lawmaker pointed out. Online gaming executive Kim Wong of the Oriental Group donated thousands of COVID-19 rapid test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) to beef up government supplies for front-line workers.

Pogo donations

The Oriental Group operates a number of Pogo outfits around the country, particularly in Pampanga and Cavite.

A statement from Wong’s office said the businessman turned over 20,000 rapid test kits, 200,000 surgical masks, 6,000 3M N95 face masks, 3,000 PPE and 1,000 goggles during a command conference at the Department of National Defense.

The donations were on top of the 75,000 rapid test kits Wong earlier turned over to local government units (LGUs), the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Undersecretary and Office of Civil Defense chief Ricardo Jalad, Adm. Joel Garcia of the Philippine Coast Guard, and Transport Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. received Wong’s donation on behalf of the Philippine government.

The Pogo executive has also donated thousands of relief packs to LGUs, consisting of rice, canned goods, coffee, disinfectants and thermal scanners.

—With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade and Daxim L. Lucas


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