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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

SolGen ready to join probe vs. POGO passport holders

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The Office of the Solicitor General on Friday said it is ready to join any investigation if the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) wants to file charges against foreigners who illegally obtain genuine Philippine passports.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said the problem of foreigners obtaining Philippine passports fraudulently “was not really a big one before” but seems to have worsened over the years.

He did not offer any data to support this view but said if a syndicate is behind the illegal operation, the government may need to form an inter-agency task force to effectively address the problem.

The task force could include the DFA, other local enforcement agencies and the OSG, Guevarra said.

The OSG is ready to take the lead in filing the appropriate casesagainst the foreigners who, by fraud, will claim Philippine citizenship on the basis of a genuine Philippine passport, he said.

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“The cancellation of a passport will be done administratively by the DFA, but when the issue goes deeper into a question of, for example,citizenship… on the basis of a genuine passport held, then it’s the OSG that will take the lead in filing the appropriate judicial action to question the citizenship of that person,” Guevarra said.

“And if that person, by fraud, was able to obtain Philippine citizenship, then that revocation of that citizenship will have to be initiated by the OSG as counsel for the state,” he added.

“We are ready for something like that. We have the necessary lawyers… to handle matters like this,” Guevarra said.

He said, however, that it is up to the DFA to conduct the necessary investigation.

Guevarra said that a law enforcement agency, like the National Bureau of Investigation, may have to be involved when an actual investigation is initiated by the DFA.

Senators earlier sought the help of government intelligence agencies in chasing down those behind the fraudulent issuance of Philippinepassports and other government-issued documents to Chinese nationals and other foreigners.

During Senate plenary debates into the proposed 2024 national budget, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urged the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Security Council (NSC) to help track the involved corrupt government officials, saying their activities compromised national security.

The DFA said the foreigners involved were able to submit genuine birth certificates issued by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) whenthey applied for a passport.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), meanwhile, said it will review the Alien Employment Permits (AEPS) of over 42,000 foreigners working in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

Labor Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez said the permits of foreignersworking in POGO firms may be revoked should they be found engaging in illegal activities.

An AEP is a document issued to a non-resident person or foreign national seeking admission to the Philippines for employment purposes.

“Under the law, foreign workers are required to apply and secure AEPs before they are allowed to work in the country,” he said.

Based on DOLE records, more than 42,000 POGO-related workers have been issued AEPs.

“As directed by Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, we are now investigating if we need to cancel or revoke their AEPs,” Benavidez said.

“If these POGO workers issued AEPs are found engaged in illegal activities, these are subject to revocation or cancellation. That is the directive of our secretary,” he added.

Several POGO establishments in Parañaque City and Pasay City were recently raided for lack of licenses to operate and were allegedly operating as prostitution dens and crypto scams hubs.

Benavidez said the review was made at the urging of the Senate.

The call was made during the Senate plenary deliberations on the DOLE’s proposed 2024 budget after Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva asked if the confiscated AEPs in a recently raided POGO hub in Pasay City were legitimate.

Earlier this week, the National Security Council (NSC) said civil registrars might have a part in the issuance of Philippine IDs and documents to foreigners, which authorities and lawmakers consider a national security threat.

NSC spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said Thursday that based on their initial investigation, the scheme starts with the civil registrars taking bribes to produce documents needed to secure a Philippine passport, such as a birth certificate.

“The corrupt public officials issue fake birth certificates that are sent to the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority). When they already have a record, the foreigners may now request a PSA-certified copy of a birth certificate, which can then lead to a passport that can then lead to many other documents like a national ID,” Malaya said in a Palace briefing.

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