As the nation recognizes the struggles and triumphs of the Filipino working class on Labor Day, the Philippine government announced the resumption of Chinese-run Philippine offshore gaming operations or POGOs amid the observed enhanced community quarantine.
Malacañang said that online casino centers will be allowed to partially resume its operations in a bid to help the government raise funds as it implements measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
POGOs, which are mostly manned by Chinese workers catering to punters from the mainland, will be allowed to maintain a skeletal workforce of 30% as they operate in areas under the enhanced community quarantine and general community quarantine.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that they will be required to disinfect their offices and screen the employees reporting for work before they can partially resume operations.
He also insisted that POGOs fall under the business process outsourcing sector despite its operations mainly catering to foreign online gamblers.
Prioritize Filipino workers
Meanwhile, the resumption of the highly controversial industry failed to gain support from some lawmakers who condemned the government’s decision.
Opposition senators Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan called for the prioritization of Filipino workers’ welfare while the enhanced and general community quarantines are in place which suspends their work operations.
“Nakakadismaya na inuna pa nating ibalik ang mga POGO workers sa trabaho kaysa ang mga kapwa Pilipino. PAGCOR (Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corporation) should explain why it moved to recommend the opening of POGOs while there are vehement opinions & serious concerns against them,” Hontiveros said.
Pangilinan likewise stated, “Uunahin pa ang ‘non essential’ na luho ng pagsusugal ng mga Chinese at trabaho ng mga manggagawang Chinese kaysa sa gutom at kawalan ng trabaho ng mga Pilipino? Ang lakas naman ng kapit ng POGO sa matataas na opisyal ng Gobyerno. Bakit?”
Sen. Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, warned that POGO’s resumption might potentially “worsen” the spread of the coronavirus disease, noting that they usually operate in small condominium units.
He added that the government should prioritize the operations of “more important industries” instead.
“Pinagtataka po natin kung bakit kating-kati ang ilan sa atin na prioritize ang sektor na ito? Tulungan po muna natin ang mga mas mahalagang sektor na nag-aambag sa ekonomiya at lumilikha ng trabaho para sa ating mga kababayan. Bakit foreign nationals’ interest ang uunahin?” Villanueva said.
Filipinos on social media similarly expressed their ire over the decision to allow POGOs to operate, which they noted was announced on the day the government is supposed to recognize the local working class.
“It sickened me to think that we celebrate Labor Day for our fellow Filipino workers that served as the pillar to the economy of the Philippines… and yet this day also marked that the government also agreed na that the POGO shall continue to operate,” a Twitter user wrote.
“The government is blatantly supporting POGOs. Wow. Wow. Wow. And they’re doing it on the day when they’re supposed to give appreciation to the FILIPINO WORKERS,” another online user said.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes also noted the irony on how the Filipino working class is treated as the nation commemorates Labor Day, compared to Chinese workers who were given the go-signal to resume operations.
May 1, 2020 is marked by mass arrests amid a pandemic. 40 arrested in Iloilo City at a caravan for murdered Jory Porquia. 10 arrested in Marikina at a feeding program. 2 workers arrested in Rizal. Sinusupil ang mamamayan, pero POGO's pinapayagan.
— Renato Reyes, Jr. (@natoreyes) May 1, 2020
Day of upholding the Filipino worker’s rights
Labor Day is celebrated in the Philippines on May 1. It is also called the International Workers’ Day in which the working class’ struggles, achievements and rights are recognized and given importance.
It has been commemorated by Filipino workers, unionists, activists and students in the country since 1913 as it gives them the chance to assert laborer’s rights and raise awareness about issues surrounding the local working class such as contractualization and unemployment.
“Labor Day in the Philippines is a public holiday every 1 May to celebrate the Filipino worker. It is a chance to remember hard-won workers’ rights,” Public Holidays Global noted.
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines spokesperson Alan Tanjusay was also quoted as saying that May 1 is the day “to recognize and honor the contribution of Filipino workers to the economy of the country.”
President Rodrigo Duterte in his Labor Day statement this year reminded employers to ensure that Filipino workers have “humane working conditions” and “stable career opportunities” as the country observes community quarantine amid the global health crisis.