More POGO workers seen to exit Subic

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—As online gaming operations catering to the Chinese market suffer from the Covid-19 pandemic and regulatory issues in the country, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said it expects a further decline in the number of Chinese nationals working in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation (POGO) industry here.

SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said Chinese workers employed by POGO companies in Subic number less than 500 today, compared to more than 1,500 just four months ago.

“This is because the POGO operators cannot do business after the declaration of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine last March, and thus were losing money,” Eisma said on Tuesday.

She said that one of the four POGO companies in Subic, which she identified as the Great Empire Gaming and Amusement Corp., had sent home all its Chinese workers after losing P106 million in revenue since the pandemic.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect POGO establishments, we can expect more Chinese workers here to be repatriated,” Eisma added.

The SBMA chief revealed this situation in Subic after Senators Richard Gordon and Nancy Binay raised the alarm during the recent Department of Tourism (DOT) budget hearing over the large number of retirees from mainland China who had availed themselves of the Special Resident Retiree’s Visa (SRRV).

Gordon, in particular, noted that the youngest Chinese “retiree” in the country was just 35 years old and described the entry in the country of 27,678 Chinese retirees as “dangerous” to national security.

Eisma, however, said the situation in Subic “is nothing to be alarmed about, because the number of Chinese POGO workers is trending downwards, not upwards.”

Figures from the SBMA Business Group showed that about 85 percent of the Chinese workers hired by POGO companies in Subic have been retrenched since March when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the global economy hard.

The first casualty here was Great Empire Gaming and Amusement Corp., which ceased operations in June and retrenched all its 374 personnel, including 368 Chinese nationals and six Filipinos.

The company used to pay the SBMA an annual share of P533,700 on top of its monthly sublease fee of P84,000. However, the firm closed after reportedly losing P106 million in revenue since March.

The remaining three POGO companies likewise reported cutbacks in employment: The Teleempire Inc., which occupies an office building and two living quarters in this Freeport, reported a total of 409 Chinese workers in July, but SBMA said this has gone down to 242 as of September 28.

Meanwhile, Northfolk Information Technologies Inc., which provides backroom services to a POGO operator in Olongapo City, had 225 Chinese employees in July, but has whittled down the number to 100 as of September 28.

Ekxinum Inc., which used to occupy four buildings at the Cubi area here, has now left three buildings vacant and reduced its Chinese worker complement from 231 active visa holders, with 169 on process in July, to 42 active visa holders, with 14 on process as of September 28.

The three POGO firms maintain a total of 170 Filipino workers as of September 28, SBMA records indicated.

Eisma said the POGO operators in Subic are not expected to resume operations anytime soon, as even some online gaming operators in Manila that cater to the Chinese market have recently exited the Philippines.

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