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Malacañang Palace said Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) should settle their tax liabilities before they can either restart or close down their operations in the country amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government is not changing its position with regard to tax-evading POGOs.

Roque made the remarks, as he backed the recent statement of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that the government would continue to go after POGOs with unpaid taxes even after they decided to leave the Philippines.

“Well, I think Secretary Dominguez will not budge from the position that they need to pay all their taxes, including the franchise tax,” Roque said.

On Sunday, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) announced that Macau-based casino operator SunCity Group has closed its POGO operations in the country.

Pagcor also bared that Don Tencess Asian Solutions has also sought the cancellation of its license from the gaming regulator.

It warned that more POGOs are seen to exit the country due to the stringent tax rules from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), particularly on the franchise tax.

Dominguez on Monday said some online gaming operators may leave the country, but BIR would continue to collect their unpaid taxes.

While President Rodrigo Duterte considers POGOs as the government’s tax revenue generators amid the Covid-19 crisis, he would not let them evade paying the right taxes, Roque said.

“Now, although the President has said we need all the resources, all the revenues that we can derive from all, including POGO operations to fund Covid-19 response of the government, I think the bottom line is they (POGOs) have to settle their tax obligations,” he said.

Around 60 POGO operators have secured licensed to operate in the Philippines.

POGOs were ordered closed in March following Duterte’s imposition of community quarantine in an effort to fight the spread of Covid-19.

They were allowed to resume partial operations in May, provided that they settle taxes and obtain clearance from BIR, pay fees required by Pagcor, and shoulder the Covid-19 testing of their employees.

The Finance department has estimated that up to PHP20 billion a year in corporate and personal income taxes could be generated from POGOs.

The government collected PHP6.4 billion in taxes from the POGO industry last year after it ran after tax-evading POGOs.

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