Villanueva: POGOs not paying taxes but still allowed to operate
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva has again called out the government for its "VIP treatment" of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) which, he said, are still in business despite their continued non-payment of taxes.
In a virtual interview with reporters on Tuesday, June 23, Villanueva said that he received information that the government not received tax payments from erring POGOs.
"Until now, I was told wala pa ring nagbabayad na bago. Wala pa rin; zero pa rin. So, it means dapat hindi sila mag-resume (Until now, I was told that no other firms have paid up. None, zero. So it means, they shouldn't resume operations)," the senator said.
"Talagang may VIP treatment. Hangga't di tayo nagmamatigas, hangga't hindi nagmamatigas ang gobyerno na dapat silang magbayad ng buwis, I don't think magbabayad sila ng buwis," he added.
(There's really VIP treatment. If we're not firm, if the government doesn't insist that they should pay taxes, I don't think they will.)
Villanueva also noted that from April 24 to June 2, over 600 people were arrested in police raids on illegal POGO operations in Metro Manila and Cavite.
"Every week na lang, and yet no one is talking to us. No one is saying, 'Oh, talagang dapat itigil muna 'yan, dapat patawan natin ng buwis 'yan (It's been happening every week, and yet no one is talking to us. No one is saying, 'Oh, we should suspend their operations first, we should tax them first),'" he said.
The Philippine Amusement Gaming Corporation had allowed POGOs to resume operations as long as they followed health protocols. Pagcor had also asserted that POGOs are "similar" to business process outsourcing, much to the disappointment of senators as the government would lose franchise tax collections.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) later claimed that there are "legal issues" surrounding the collection of franchise tax, as POGOs are supposedly "non-resident corporations."
According to an earlier Senate hearing, POGOs owed the government around P50 billion in unpaid liabilities.
Villanueva, along with other senators, had asked the government to suspend POGO operations, following marathon hearings on the bribery scheme at immigration checkpoints in airports involving POGO workers arriving from China. (READ: POGOs linked to crimes: Forged PH passports, money laundering, sex trafficking)
President Rodrigo Duterte himself had said in September 2019 that the country "needs" POGOs for revenues. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Duterte and the POGO dilemma) – Rappler.com