Over 20,000 foreign nationals working in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogo) sector could soon be subjected to tax assessment from the government after being validated by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Labor Undersecretary Ana. C. Dione said in a news conference on Monday that the result of their initial inspection of the Pogo sector, which covered 88 establishments, about 16,550 of these foreigners were given Special Working Permits (SWP) while 7,411 presented Alien Employment Permits (AEP).
The majority of these foreigners are Chinese nationals.
“This report came from the first batch,” Dione said. “Tomorrow [April 23], we will start with the second batch of inspection.”
The SWP is issued by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for foreign nationals who will be working in the country for less than six months. The AEP is given by the labor department for those who will work in the country beyond six months.
Labor Assistant Secretary Benjo M. Benavidez said they mobilized about 160 labor inspectors for the ongoing nationwide validation process.
He noted the inspection covered all foreign nationals and was not specifically aimed at Chinese nationals.
Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) Director Dominique R. Tutay explained the inspection is part of their efforts to validate the list of foreign nationals submitted by Pogo firms.
“So far the figures [from the list and the inspection] are consistent. Foreign workers are about 70 to 80 percent [of the Pogo work force]; the rest are Filipinos,” Tutay told the BusinessMirror.
Benavidez said they have yet to submit their validation results to the Department of Finance (DOF).
He added that the names of those, who will be found to have no permits or not complying with its provisions, will be submitted to the BI.
“It will be the call of the BI whether to deport them or not,” Benavidez said.
The DOLE crafted the master list of foreign nationals in Pogo companies as part of the DOF’s effort to tax these foreigners.
The DOLE’s partially completed master list has 63,855 foreign nationals working in the Pogo sectors.
However, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) earlier estimated there were 130,000 unregistered Chinese workers in Pogos companies. The DOF is targeting to collect P32-billion worth of taxes from the unauthorized workers.
MEANWHILE, Akbayan Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros urged the government to impose stricter and more effective regulations on Pogos, which has led, she said, “to an influx of Chinese businesses and labor into the country.”
“The drive to profit from Chinese-led offshore gaming must not be at the expense of the welfare and interests of Filipinos,” Hontiveros said in the statement she issued on Monday.
“While the entry of more Pogos has brought an undeniable economic boom for some industries, we have to ensure that these establishments comply with our immigration, and financial laws and regulations, that they pay the proper taxes, and that there is proper documentation of all Chinese nationals who are coming into our country,” she added.
Hontiveros said the government “must also guarantee that jobs, which Filipino workers are qualified for, be made available to us.”
“Along with this, Filipino workers must have the widest access to retraining and retooling programs to keep up with changes in the workplace, and develop new skills to respond to modern work life and the dawn of automation,” Hontiveros added.
Driving up rents
Regulatory agencies, Hontiveros said, must also address the possible “artificial and unwarranted” rise in prices in the real-estate sector due to Pogos. It was reported that residential rental rates where Chinese-dominated Pogos operate have gone up dramatically.
This rate of increase, which is much faster compared to the other central business districts in Metro Manila, is driving up rents, forcing long-time Filipino tenants to give up their housing units.
“As a country with a large number of citizens working abroad, we are not against foreign workers. All we ask is a fair application of our laws,” she said. “Foreign workers, including Chinese workers, who fully comply with the laws of our land and respect the rights of Filipino workers, are very welcome in our country. We demand the same from our countrymen and women working abroad and hosted by foreign countries.”
Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 1027 on March 19 to investigate the Pogo industry, update applicable laws and ensure better revenue collection.