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IS THE Philippines becoming China's "sin city"?
Senator Joel Villanueva expressed this concern as he talked about his intention to file a resolution calling for an inquiry into the government's policy on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO). Villanueva chairs the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
Villanueva said the POGO industry is "less beneficial to the domestic economy" than it seems because it harms Filipino businessmen and workers. He cited the spike in the cost of leasing office spaces as one example. He also warned that the gambling business might lead to illegal activities.
The media reported that the senator made these observations as the country's gaming regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) announced that the government made PHP11.9 billion from the industry from 2016 to 2018, with PHP8 billion more expected this year. On the same day, the agency also said it had approved the establishment of POGO hubs in Cavite and Pampanga to attract more investors.
As the media previously reported, the growth of POGOs has led to the influx of foreign workers, mostly from mainland China, which triggered concerns over the displacement of Filipino workers and the surge in the cost of office and residential spaces.
Unfortunately, the media's disjointed coverage of POGOs and related issues has so far failed to provide a comprehensive picture of all its aspects - to help the public decide whether the influx of POGOs is harmful or beneficial to the country. The media must go beyond treating the issue as mere business news, tracking announcements in its implementation. Neither should it be reported only as separate incidents that show deportation of Chinese workers with no legal permits.
Media should bring together these separate stories to draw from them the social and political implications of the policy.
CMFR reviewed reports from the newspapers Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star, the primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2's TV Patrol, CNN Philippines' News Night, GMA-7's 24 Oras and TV5's Aksyon), as well as selected news websites from July 1 to July 16, 2019.
The media's coverage of POGOs and related topics during the monitored period has been relatively limited in number and scope of reports. Most of the reports were confined to the business pages of the broadsheets and were focused on the financial aspect of the issue.
Other stories updated developments on visa requirements, tax responsibilities of foreign workers and the creation of a database to monitor their numbers. The crackdown on illegal online gambling operators and workers was also mentioned in some reports.
The policies in POGOs should have been given more prominence by the media as these involve changes that invite analysis into whether they are adequately addressing the problems the industry has generated, but the newspapers monitored merely mentioned them in their reports in their business pages.
TV news paid little attention to the subject.
Some media accounts explored the social costs of the POGO industry.
An in-depth report on online gambling by Rappler in October 2018, for instance, looked at how the presence of POGOs have driven rental costs for offices and residences beyond the reach of Filipino renters, while helping spur commercial enterprises such as food businesses. The article also raised the possibility of POGOs paving the way for fraud and money laundering.
A Philstar.com report on June 18 looked at the case of Cambodia where online gambling is also on the rise. It quoted San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, who warned that with the growing number of casinos in Cambodia could come money laundering, human trafficking and other illicit activities.
Three years since the resurgence of online gambling in the Philippines, the media have yet to answer the question: why, in the first place, has the country opened its doors to online gambling, an activity banned in China, from which many of the POGO workers come from?