Some 40 foreign nationals working in an illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) company in Angeles City, Pampanga were rescued over the weekend, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said yesterday.
The Angeles raid came a day after a rescue operation was conducted at a POGO site in Cainta, Rizal on Friday, yielding more than 70 foreigners.
In a statement, PAGCOR said the raid was jointly carried out with the Interior and Justice departments, Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Senator Imee Marcos, for her part, said POGOs should be phased out given the recent reports of abductions and human trafficking involving the industry.
“At first, I was okay with POGO because the Philippines will make money from them. I feel that we needed the money back then. But now, like e-sabong, they’re okay as a source of income, but the revenue we earn is not equal to the crimes, kidnappings, and abductions that come with it,” she said.
“If we can’t regulate POGO – like e-sabong – let’s just stop them. After all, the amount that we earn from them is very little. I think the income obtained under the table is bigger than what is given to the government,” the senator added.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., for his part, said the operation in Angeles seeks to “put an end to the POGO-related kidnappings and human trafficking cases in the country.”
“It’s a continuing case. We have arrested a human resource development officer, but I believe there are people higher than this suspect,” Abalos said.
The rescued foreigners will be turned over to the Bureau of Immigration to ensure that their documents and working permits are in order.
Meanwhile, PAGCOR said it revoked the license of a POGO service provider in Pasig City after the rescue of the allegedly kidnapped workers, mostly Chinese, in Cainta.
The company, Crimson Tulip BPO, was stripped of its license.
“The NBI reportedly rescued 70 Chinese, 16 Vietnamese, two Taiwanese, one Malaysian and 44 Filipinos who were allegedly forced to work in a fraudulent online POGO operation,” PAGCOR said.
Last week, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and senators agreed the country should discontinue the POGO program because of its social cost, including alleged involvement in criminal activities.
At a budget hearing at the Senate, Diokno 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.
“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.
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.
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.