Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez on Sunday urged law enforcement agencies to ensure that operators of online sexual exploitation dens, as well as their overseas financiers, would be charged, prosecuted and send to jail.
“The vigilance of our law enforcers are paying off. I trust that they will continue with their work until all operators of online sexual exploitation dens and their adult patrons are put to jail,” she said.
Romualdez is the House committee on the welfare of children chairperson.
She reacted to the recent rescue of eight children and arrest of two mothers in a series of police operations against the illicit activity.
“I also urge our law enforcers to work closely with their counterparts abroad and international organizations so that the financiers of these operators of sexual exploitation dens are identified and brought to the bar of justice,” she said.
On Feb. 20, a boy and two girls—siblings aged 10, 13 and 16 years old—were rescued in a police operation in Pampanga after the police received information that they were being exploited online by their 40-year-old mother for money.
“The vigilance of our law enforcers in protecting our children against criminals is truly commendable. Their diligence in surveillance led not only to the arrest of sexual predators, but also to the rescue of minors victimized by online exploitation,” Romualdez said.
“Let me also commend the foreign counterparts of our law enforcers and other international non-government organizations that care for our children. The success of their operation showed that only through international cooperation can we successfully combat transnational child sexual exploitation,” she added.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has warned remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) maybe adversely affected if proven that the Philippines is being used an avenue for “dirty money” from Chinese syndicates in mainland China through the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO).
In a radio interview, Drilon said the issuances of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may force Philippine authorities to impose more stringent measures before allowing transferring money—which may impact remittances from OFWs.
FATF is an intergovernmental organization that was created to fight money laundering.
He said that the country’s OFWs will be in a “pitiful situation” due to the so-called enhanced examination where many documents are needed for OFWs to send money to the Philippines.
“At this stage, we need to look at compliance. The law is there. We can call the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), the BSP, PAGCOR. What are they doing to perform their mandate in monitoring especially the POGO.
The Senate leader also believes POGOs should be closed down since its positive outlook outweighs the problems it gives.
“POGO has no big contribution to our economy; it does not add job because their workers are Chinese nationals; the real estate, we’re calling the increase in real estate as bubble or artificial,” related Drilon.
He also pointed out that the Chinese government does not want POGO. “This is illegal in China so this should not be continued, that was according to China.”
“They objected to POGO in Cambodia that’s why they shut down operations. So for me, this should also be closdd,” said Drilon.
The Senate leader surmised that millions of dollars brought in by Chinese nationals to the Philippines may have been funneled to the POGO.
“This is because undeclared money is expected, as said in Republic Act No. 10365 which amended the AMLAC to be laundered through casinos and other gaming platforms.
“The presumption of anti-money laundering act especially when it comes to casinos, is that casinos are being used in money laundering scheme. Kaya sakop ang casinos at may obligation silang i-report kung saan nanggaling yung pera,” explained Drilon.
Because of this, Drilon emphasized that casinos in the country are obligated to report to the AMLC supposed cases of money laundering.
Senator Richard Gordon said Chinese nationals have brought into the country millions of dollars in cash, raising suspicions about where these amount will be used.
He raised alarm over “inordinate amount of money” being brought into the country by the Chinese. He said, there are about $180 million in cash that was transported from China from December 2019 to February this year.
“That’s too much. They’re bringing it in Hong Kong because there is no currency control. AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act) should check. They declared it so, they are supposed to check it. It could go to the banking system, it could go to the casino, and how much thousands are being paid by the casinos kung ganyan kalaki ang volume?” Gordon said.
Based on the records of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the Chinese who brought huge amount of money claimed that they would use it for travel and casino, while others said, they would expend it for investments.
“This is very alarming. So many foreigners are coming into the country with this huge amount of money. Definitely, this is money laundering. It’s tragic that we have an anti-money laundering law, but our country is used by other people,” Gordon said..
Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee said that he would launch a legislative inquiry on the topic while asking AMLC to look into the issue.
According to Gordon, at least 60 Chinese citizens managed to slip in cold cash amounting to millions of dollars into the country.
Such huge sums of money, he said, could be used for anomalous purposes, ranging from funding state enemies, engaging in real estate, and even for gambling.
“They can gamble which is the real goal... kunwari magsusugal ka, isasauli ngayon sa ‘yo, nanalo ka. Tapos ide-deposit mo sa bangko. Legal na ‘yun ngayon. It’s now legal. They can send it to Hong Kong, and just check,” Gordon said in a separate interview.
However, Drilon, author of Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act, admitted that there is nothing wrong with foreigners bringing money into the country, as long as they declare it to the Bureau of Customs.
He said that in the Anti-Money Laundering Law, if it reached P5 milyon or $100,000, it should be reported especially if its a suspicious transaction.
“Dahil ang basic na prinsipyo sa Anti-Money Laundering Act ‘yung tinatawag na KYC. Kailangan kilala mo ang iyong customer,” he said.
“Kaya may mga identification card na kailangan bago ilipat sa casino. Kung mag-surrender kayo, bumili kayo ng chip, ang requirement ay tinatawag nating KYC or ‘know your customer.’ Kaya hindi dapat makalusot ito,” he added.
Money laundering is defined under RA 9160 as “a crime whereby the proceeds of an unlawful activity are transacted, thereby making them appear to have originated from legitimate sources.”
Drilon said casinos should report these supposed cases of money laundering in gambling.