Kidnapping, other crimes linked to online gambling
1Senators agreed Thursday that the country should discontinue the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) program because of its social cost, including alleged involvement in criminal activities.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, for his part, also pointed out that total POGO revenues from online gambling operations plunged to P3.9 billion in 2021, from P7.2 billion in 2020.
“In fact, China has discontinued POGO. Even Cambodia. It also has a reputational risk. People will ask why are they going to the Philippines [when] it is discontinued in China? …Maybe because we are loose; we are not strict on our rules,” he said.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa said the government can kick out the POGOs if public safety is at risk due to their involvement in crimes like kidnapping, illegal detention and sex slavery.
Police records show POGOs, composed of Chinese workers, have been involved in these crimes.
“I don’t care if we have nothing to eat, I don’t care if they (POGOs) shut down operations,” Dela Rosa, a former police chief, said.
Diokno, testifying before the Senate Finance committee on the P5.8 trillion proposed national budget for 2023, said revenue collected from POGOs has dropped due to a “change in the environment,” adding that the pandemic was a huge factor.
For 2022, he said, the projected income from POGOs is P32 billion—but only P3 billion has been collected to date.
Senator Grace Poe also recommended to the Senate panel to study the possibility of asking POGOs to leave.
The Senate probe stemmed from separate resolutions by Senators Imee Marcos, JV Ejercito, and Poe, who all sounded the alarm over the recent surge in reported abductions nationwide.
Dela Rosa said the social media has been used as a tool to disseminate reports of kidnapping and other crimes.
In the same hearing, Ejercito said foreign nationals have been using the identities of dead persons to secure government-issued identification cards in the Philippines.
An official of the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCCII) told the Senate that Chinese who are employed by POGOs do not report cases of abduction because they are afraid of being deported.
At a hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, PCCCII secretary general Bengsum Ko stood by the group’s information that 56 kidnapping incidents had happened in a span of just 10 days, a claim that the Philippine National Police disputes.
PNP officer-in-charge Police Lt. Gen. Jose Chiquito Malayo told the committee that he immediately asked the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) about the alleged 56 cases.
“They cannot substantiate when did these incidents happened and where. So, we stand on our statistics that the 56 crime incidents did not happen” Malayo said.
But Ko said the PNP statistics covered only reported cases.
“As we all know POGO… is illegal in China… So, whoever is working with the POGO or employees, if they are abducted or kidnapped by anybody else, they would not want to go to the authorities,” Ko said.
“Because once they go to the authorities and it’s reported to the Chinese Embassy, immediately they would be deported back to China and they would be banned from going out of the country for the next five years,” he added.
Dela Rosa, the chairman of the committee, urged the PNP and the PCCCII to coordinate with each other.
“Don’t put the burden of proof on them,” he said, addressing the PNP.
“Since they went public with these numbers, you have to seek their cooperation and find these 56.”
In a statement issued to the Senate, Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) President Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong said they could not confirm if abductions reported on social media were true.
He said his group had set up a hot line so that witnesses of such crimes can report them and ask for help.
He also asked the community to avoid spreading unverified news or share unverified posts through social media and messaging applications, as these unverified reports may cause unnecessary panic and hurt the country’s image as a tourism and investment destination.
Ejercito, meanwhile, urged the PNP to step up its operations against the illegal entry of Chinese nationals using the identities of dead persons.
Fortunato Manahan Jr., OIC deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Immigration (BI), confirmed they have deported a number of foreign nationals for using fraudulent passports, birth certificates, and marriage certificates.
Ejercito had earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 194, which seeks to direct the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs to conduct a probe on these “alarming” cases of kidnapping, abduction, and disappearances, especially those against women, Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) workers, and Filipino-Chinese individuals.
The resolution highlighted the alleged kidnapping of a Chinesenational in broad daylight along the Skyway elevated highway and the documented torture of a male victim whose ear was cut off.
“We have to verify the authenticity of these videos so that we can attack the problems already head on and not cause panic among our fellow Filipinos and the business sector,” he said.
Senators Marcos and Poe had previously filed similar resolutions.
Ejercito also revealed that several intelligence reports indicate the presence of Cambodian-Chinese criminal syndicates in the country.
He said the national government risks losing the confidence of investors and the rest of the business sector if the ongoing spate of kidnappings and torture is not addressed.
Amid these reports, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said it has intensified collaboration with its partner government and law enforcement agencies.
On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said some 43 Chinese nationals who were alleged human trafficking victims have been rescued by the Philippine National Police-Anti Kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG).
The operation was triggered by a message that Abalos received Tuesday afternoon from his friend whose Chinese assistant was kidnapped.
Abalos said he then requested the PNP-AKG to conduct an operation to rescue the Chinese national, whose last known location was Clark City, Pampanga.
“We are pleased to announce the successful rescue of another kidnapped Chinese shortly after midnight this morning in Angeles City,” he said.
“The kidnap rescue operation stemmed from information provided by our foreign police counterparts based on complaints of the family of the kidnapped Chinese who was held for a P1 million ransom since late evening of Monday, Sept. 12,” he added.
During the operation, Abalos said 42 other Chinese nationals were also found and rescued in a POGO establishment.
He said the police arrested a suspect, identified as 33-year-old Chen Yi Bien, a human resource manager of a POGO establishment.