Duterte signs law on POGO tax

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2021   •   867

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill seeking to set up a tax regime for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), Malacañang said on Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte signed the Republic Act (RA) 11590 on Wednesday.

“Bahagi ito sa ating mahigpit na pagri-regulate ng lahat ng klase ng gambling at pagbabawal ng iligal na sugal,” he said in a Palace briefing.

RA 11590 states that foreigners working in POGOs regardless of term and class of working or employment permit or visa are required to pay a final withholding tax of 25 percent on their gross income.

The law also imposes 5 percent gaming tax on services rendered by offshore gaming licensees.

Sixty percent of the total revenue collected from the offshore gambling tax will be used for the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law while 20 percent each will be allocated to the Health Facilities Enhancement Program, and the attainment of the country’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to be determined by the National Economic and Development Authority.

The government suspended POGOs and other non-essential businesses in 2020 when it imposed COVID-19 lockdowns.

POGOs will not be allowed to reopen unless they settle their tax liabilities.

The government is expecting to collect more than P100 billion in revenues from POGOs in the next four years.

Senate approves POGO tax bill on third, final reading

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 3, 2021

With votes of 17-3-0, the Senate has approved the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGO Tax Bill on the third and final reading.

Senate Bill No. 223 which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent seeks to impose additional taxes on POGO.

The Gross Gaming Revenue or receipts from POGO’s gaming operation will have 5% tax. The gross income of all alien employees of offshore gaming licensees and service providers will also be imposed with 25% withholding tax.

According to Senator Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and sponsor of the bill, an estimate of P28.7 billion worth of taxes will be collected in 2021 once it becomes a law. Meanwhile, an estimate of P32 billion will be collected in 2022.

However, several Senators do not agree in approving the said bill. Senator Risa Hontiveros said online gambling should not be the main source of income for foreigners in the country. She also reported crimes and syndicates where several POGO employees are involved.

“I think it is important for this chamber, Mr. President, to take a stronger position against online gambling and the illicit activity it has brought to our shores,” she said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan also agreed with Hontiveros.

“Indeed, whatever amount the BIR collects from POGOs may be used to fund projects to give relief to our people’s suffering during this pandemic. However, we cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the social costs that the POGO industry brings and has brought upon us,” he said. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Senate probe into PAGCOR’s alleged lobby for POGO’s quarantine exception sought

Robie de Guzman   •   May 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros are calling on their fellow lawmakers to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation into the alleged lobbying of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to exclude Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in the COVID-19 quarantine.

In a joint statement, Pangilinan and Hontiveros said they have recently filed Senate Resolution 396 after PAGCOR allowed POGOs to resume partial operations, subject to strict conditions, purportedly to boost government revenues amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The senators said that the gaming regulator’s “actuations in lobbying for an exception in favor of the POGO industry threaten to unduly put the health and well-being of the Filipino people at risk by undermining the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).”

“Even going by the official estimate, allowing more than 50,000 workers in the online gambling industry to return to work represents a substantial exception to the ECQ rules,” they said.

PAGCOR chairman Andrea Domingo earlier argued that licensed POGOs should be allowed to resume operations as these are part of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.

BPOs have been allowed to operate amid the quarantine period.

Domingo earlier assured that before POGOs were allowed to resume partial operations, they would have to meet safety and health requirements.

But Pangilinan and Hontiveros both expressed apprehension that the partial reopening of POGO operations could “reverse the efforts put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19”as there is no assurance that POGOS will follow the Department of Health’s guidelines on physical distancing, wearing of masks, and frequent handwashing and sanitation.”

The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) have also rejected that POGOs are part of the BPO industry, citing four key differences:

  • BPO companies are registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) or the Board of Investments, while POGOs are registered with PAGCOR,
  • the offshoring nature of POGOs are allegedly because they are unable to practice their betting or gambling functions in their respective shores,
  • IT-enabled jobs BPO companies create are of much higher value, requiring a range of technical, domain, and soft skills, and
  • BPOs come to the Philippines to leverage off the country’s human capital, like strong English and technical skills, customer service orientation, malasakit, and ability to adapt to foreign cultures. On the other hand, majority of POGO staffing comes from foreign labor brought into the country to support their operations.

According to IBPAP, POGOs are not part of the annual IT-BPO Headcount and Revenue report, which in 2019 ended with 1.3 million direct employees and $26.3 billion in revenues, the senators said.

PAGCOR also argued that revenues from POGO operations can be a significant source of funds for the government’s COVID-19 response.

It also said that operators are ordered to pay all tax obligations up to March 2020 before they will be allowed to resume operations and only registered workers cleared in COVID-19 rapid tests to report back to work.

But Hontiveros and Pangilinan pointed out that during a Senate hearing in February 2020,

the Bureau of Internal Revenue revealed that POGOs failed to pay the government an estimated P50 billion in withholding and franchise taxes in 2019.

The senators said the uncollected taxes of POGOs could be a source of additional government funds for COVID-19 response.

“[But these] taxes need to be collected regardless of the industry’s status of operations during the community quarantine,” they said.

The senators also pointed out that the resumption of POGO operations will have minimal impact on the country’s economy.

They cited records from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) showing that the industry only accounts for 0.04% of the domestic economy.

Earlier this week, a group of House lawmakers filed a bill seeking to have POGOs declared illegal by prohibiting the operations of any offshore gaming by any means or device within Philippine territory.

PH gov’t allows POGO partial operations amid community quarantine

Robie de Guzman   •   May 1, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The government has allowed the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to resume partial operations amid the enforcement of community quarantine against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said POGOs have been allowed to partially reopen, subject to stringent conditions.

PAGCOR said that prior to the resumption of operations, POGOs and their service providers are ordered to strictly adhere to the following pre-requisites:

  • Updating and settlement of all their tax liabilities, as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue;
  • Updating of their payments for any regulatory fee, license fee, performance bond or penalties due to PAGCOR;
  • Remittance of regulatory fees for the month of April;
  • Must pass the readiness to implement safety protocols

The PAGCOR also assured they will impose safety protocols on POGOs to ensure that its employees will be protected from infections and the spread of the virus in their communities will be avoided.

These safety measures include:

  • The permission of only 30 percent workforce per shift in authorized operating sites;
  • Provision of shuttle services for employees from their places of residence to their offices;
  • Temperature checks upon entry at the office premises;
  • Practicing social distancing, proper sanitation and disinfection, and
  • Wearing of mask at all times, among other important guidelines to curb the infection

Meanwhile, POGO employees who are confirmed COVID-19 cases, including those who are suspect or probable cases, will not be allowed to work.

“The vulnerable groups, including the sick, immunocompromised, seniors, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities will not be deployed,” PAGCOR said.

“Those who will report back to work – whether Filipinos or foreign nationals – must be tested for COVID-19 and must obtain a negative test result from a testing facility duly-registered with the Food and Drugs Administration,” it added.

POGOs are also required to establish an isolation room for employees who may start to exhibit symptoms of the virus.

“Even with the partial resumption of POGO operations, we will put premium on the safety of their employees, and the gaming industry as a whole,” the agency said.

“While we recognize their huge contributions to nation-building, and their great viability as a funding source in these difficult times, we still have to practice extra precaution in striking a balance between health and economic benefits,” it added.

PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said the decision to allow POGOs’ partial operations was reached with the intention of helping the national government raise necessary funds to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Citing the revenues from POGOs as a significant source of funds that would supplement efforts to curb the health crisis, Domingo assured that the management followed the  guidelines provided by the government under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

The agency said that its decision likewise seeks to preserve the employment of 31,556 Filipinos who were directly hired by said industry; and create ripples in the country’s economic activity such as the real estate industry as POGOs occupy 1,000,000 square-meter of office space.

Domingo said POGO operations were allowed to partially reopen under Information and Communication Technology-Business Process Outsourcing (ICT-BPO) exemption.

Businesses classified under ICT-BPO are those that are involved in non-primary business and functions, which will be allowed to operate under the existing community quarantine rule.

With the partial resumption of POGOs, Domingo said that functions of law enforcement agencies will continue, and sanctions and penalties will apply to POGO licensees and service providers who will be found in violation of PAGCOR’s pre-requisites and security protocols, and of the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF’s) orders.

PAGCOR will also coordinate with local government units in monitoring POGOs compliance to protocols while the IATF will conduct inspections.

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