Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday said he will meet with the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines regarding the deportation of employees of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) that are not licensed.
During a budget hearing Tuesday, Remulla said there were 216 previously licensed POGO companies that have stopped paying their dues.
Remulla estimated that around 40,000 employees of the POGO companies may be staying in the Philippines illegally.
He said China had protocols that needed to be followed before accepting the deportees, and that he would be meeting the Chinese ambassador to ensure that these rules were followed.
Several foreigners who were rescued during operations against unlawful POGOs in Luzon are set to be deported, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Tuesday.
Forty-one foreign nationals who were rescued in Angeles, Pampanga over the weekend are currently at the BI’s detention facility in Taguig awaiting deportation, said BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Tuesday the crackdown on POGOs linked to illegal activities is part of the government’s efforts to preserve the country’s safe business climate, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Tuesday.
“With the crackdown, what we are doing with undocumented, overstaying, expired visa or working permits of POGO workers, it will soon give our country a better business climate since part of the requirement for foreign workers are clearances that they are not wanted or facing any criminal charges in their country, and that they will be required to obtain national police clearances and NBI clearances,” PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said.
“POGO and other foreign nationals working here must have a monitoring mechanism to ensure that they are not violating our laws with impunity,” he said.
This came as the PNP and other law enforcement agencies intensified operations amid reports of abductions of foreign POGO workers, mainly Chinese nationals, by their compatriots.
Azurin said the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group has solved nine of the 17 POGO-related kidnapping cases reported since January this year.
Out of this figure, one case has been marked as cleared while seven other cases remain under investigation.
To further boost the police’s investigative capacity in POGO-related incidents, Azurin said the police force is seeking to forge a better coordination with concerned government agencies such as the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.
Despite growing calls to stop POGOs altogether, Senator Jinggoy Estrada said he wants those operating legally to stay.
“It is not fair to kick out all POGOs to include companies who are legally operating in the country and following our policies and laws,” Estrada said.
He said expelling those operating illegally will eventually reduce POGO-related crimes like kidnapping, abduction, illegal detention and sex slavery and prostitution.
He also said POGOs should be able to continue operating here as long as 70 percent of their workforce are Filipinos.
Noting that at present, 70 percent of their workers are Chinese, Estrada said these are jobs that should go to Filipinos.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, said he will conduct a separate hearing Thursday on the economic impact of POGOs.
At Tuesday’s budget hearing, Gatchalian confronted Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco about the entry in the country of POGO workers.
Tasingco said lately, they had issues with expired visas or POGO workers having transferred to other employers or POGO companies.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said since 2020, she has been repeatedly calling on POGOs “to pay up and pack up.”
During the same year, she filed a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate to disallow the resumption of POGO operations due to the financial, social and human costs.
As chairperson of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, she led the hearings on the link between the rise of the POGO industry and the increase in the cases of prostitution and human trafficking.
“These investigations all led us to the same conclusion: the social cost of POGOs outweigh the perceived benefits,” the opposition senator said.
She pointed out that it was clearly established that minors have been victims of abuses and violence perpetrated by Chinese nationals working in POGOs.
Also POGOs have exacerbated the problem of corruption at the Bureau of Immigration, she said.