By Leonel Abasola

POGO ONLINE SCAMS. Rows of mobile phones allegedly being used in scam transactions are found during a raid at a POGO facility in Bamban, Tarlac on March 13, 2024. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on May 21 filed a measure outlawing POGO in the country as criminal activities linked to the industry continue to rise. (Photo courtesy of PAOCC)

MANILA – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has filed a measure seeking to outlaw operations of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country as criminal activities linked to the industry continue to rise.

“The main goal is ultimately to outlaw and prohibit offshore gaming operations in the country. While the POGO industry has brought in revenue and jobs, the country has grappled with a surge in POGO-related crimes, raising concerns about the overall impact on the industry,” Gatchalian said in a news release on Friday.

Senate Bill No. 2689, which Gatchalian filed last May 21, seeks to repeal the taxability of offshore gaming in the country as provided by Republic Act 11590 which was signed into law on Sept. 22, 2021 by then President Rodrigo Duterte.

In filing the bill, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means cited several incidents of human trafficking and online scams related to POGO that have come to the Senate’s attention.

These include the police raid at the Clark Freeport Zone in May last year which led to the rescue of about a thousand foreigners and more than a hundred Filipinos; and the police raid in Las Piñas the following month that accounted for about 2,700 suspected victims of human trafficking.

Another police raid in October last year was conducted in a POGO operation in Pasay City, which led to the discovery within its premises of a torture chamber, an aquarium-style viewing chamber, and massage parlors allegedly being used for prostitution. A police raid In March this year in Bamban, Tarlac was prompted by a complaint filed by a Vietnamese national for alleged human trafficking and serious illegal detention.

“Various atrocities attributed to the industry have generated public outcry for a ban on the industry, further intensified by economic costs brought by such operations. Beyond the financial impact, the rise in human trafficking and online scams linked to POGOs is a moral failing we must address” Gatchalian said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Francis Escudero said he is studying the possibility of banning all forms of gambling instead of focusing only on POGOs.

In a statement, Escudero said he prefers “to ban everything to get rid of gambling in the Philippines,” along with its associated ills such as human trafficking, money laundering and cyber fraud, among others. (PNA)