Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was poked fun at online after he appeared to have admitted that the online gaming industry provides “cash resource” to President Rodrigo Duterte during a virtual press briefing on April 21.
The press briefing was about the possible reopening of the Philippine offshore gaming companies or POGOs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Eric Go Yap (ACT-CIS Party-list) earlier proposed the resumption of the POGO operations, citing that it would “give tax collection a much-needed boost.
The Department of Finance also recently said it is looking into the possibility of POGOs’ reopening.
Roque said that this matter is for Duterte to decide on.
He then made the following remark: “So ang POGO po ay kabahagi po ‘yan siguro ng isang industriya na nagbibigay ng cash resource sa president.”
A video clip of this portion, which was edited by a social media user to add a lively background music, immediately made rounds on social media.
Twitter users observed in jest that based on his manner of speaking, Roque might have made a “slip of the tongue” in his response.
Slip of the tongue.
“Ang POGO po ay nagbibigay ng cash resource sa Presidente…” pic.twitter.com/n1CDi7tbh7
— shamrocker☘ (@shamrocker_oo_) April 21, 2020
A Twitter user, meanwhile, questioned the use of the term “cash resource” to refer to the government’s income from the POGOs’ taxes.
“No one would refer income from taxes as cash resource. No legal government income is called cash resource,” the user said. The clip, however, does not show Roque immediately qualified “cash resource” to mean taxes.
Roque’s complete response, which several news outfits also reported in verbatim, is not far from the edited version.
This was also reflected on the official transcript of his press briefing published on the Presidential Communications Operations Office’s website.
At the briefing, Roque responded to a journalist’s query on whether POGOs will be part of those that will remain close after April 30. He talked about President Duterte’s impending decision on whether on not to lift the strict quarantine of Luzon or modify it.
“Ano iyong mga industriya na dapat buksan at ang dapat buksan po? Gaya nang nakita ninyo sa slide ni Dr. (Mahar) Lagmay ay may mga industriya naman na low risk sa population at low risk din naman pero high impact on the economy,” he added.
“So, ang POGO po kabahagi po iyan siguro ng isang industriya na nagbibigay ng cash resource sa president, sa ating pamahalaan sa pamamagitan ng buwis at ang tatanungin po natin is ano iyong risk na pino-pose ng operation ng POGO? Mababawasan ba iyong risk ng pagkalat ng sakit sa pamamagitan ng social distancing at pupuwede bang mag-work from home iyang mga POGO industries na iyan?” he also said.
The POGO industry, which was introduced to the country in 2016, caused the sudden influx of Chinese nationals arriving here.
The gaming firms are mostly run by Chinese operators and their workers also came from China, where the deadly novel coronavirus supposedly originated.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the POGOs as an industry had unpaid taxes amounting to P50 billion.
After Luzon was placed under the enhanced community quarantine last March 17, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the primary agency tasked to manage POGOs, also ordered a temporary suspension of their operations.
It also issued guidelines banning online gambling.
POGOs during the health crisis
Due to the pending controversies hounding POGOs, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and House Minority Leader Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. opposed the calls to reopen the gaming industry and allowing the majority Chinese employees to return to work.
Prior to the lockdown, the Senate was investigating alleged crimes involving Chinese nationals and POGOs such as a new sex trafficking network, kidnapping, money laundering and tax evasion.
Pangilinan said that resuming their operations during a health crisis will once again send “conflicting” signals to the Filipinos, particularly those who lost their jobs during the quarantine.
“Masyado naman atang malakas ang kapit nitong mga Chinese na operators ng POGO sa matataas na opisyal ng Gobyernong Duterte at atat na atat itong unahin pa ang mga dayuhang Chinese na magkatrabaho ulit kaysa sa ating mga kababayan?” Pangilinan said.
Abante, meanwhile, argued that the country is better off without any form of gambling while dealing with the pandemic.
“The operative word here is ‘essential;’ it is my view that POGOs are not an essential industry needed by the country as we work to overcome the outbreak. Gambling, in all shapes and forms, is not essential. It is a vice — one that any country can do without, whether it be the Philippines or China,” Abante said.
Senate labor committee chair Joel Villanueva was also concerned that POGOs’ reopening poses risk of further spread of COVID-19.
“My concern with POGO is, it is not only a high-risk sector—it has a huge potential of spreading the disease because there are several workers working in an enclosed area and are residing in high rise condominiums,” Villanueva’s message to reporters read.
Despite serious allegations against these firms, Duterte has shown reluctance to shut them down.
Last February, there was a COVID-19 scare among Chinese POGO workers in Parañaque City, particularly those who flew in from Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly virus in China.
It was only on March 18 when PAGCOR decided to temporarily suspend operations of the industry in compliance to quarantine guidelines.