Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. on Friday ordered police to stop providing security details to foreigners working in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
At a budget hearing at the Senate, Abalos issued the order after senators questioned the deployment of personnel from the Philippine National Police Security and Protection Group (PNP-PSPG) to foreigners linked to the POGO industry.
“If the Philippines is such a dangerous place for them, why are they here to do business?” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III asked.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, who presided over the hearing, said Filipino taxpayers are the ones paying for these PNP-PSPG personnel and government resources.
PNP chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said he has ordered a review of people who can be provided with security by the PSPG, but Senator Ronald dela Rosa suggested he simply order a stop to the practice.
“When the issue is very hot about POGO, all it will take is one order,” Dela Rosa, a former PNP chief, said.
“If they need a lot of security, that means they are engaged in a very dangerous business,” he added in a mix of Filipino and English. “They are here to engage not in a legal business. Maybe it’s an illegal business they are engaged in.”
Dela Rosa and Pimentel then mentioned a complaint where Filipinos were allegedly being stopped from entering a public restroom when the “big boss” of these bodyguards was using it.
Abalos then ordered Azurin during the hearing to look into the incident mentioned by the senators and file cases if necessary.
“I’m directing our chief to look into this. Number one, we’ll file a case if need be. It cannot be that nobody can use the restroom when a foreigner is taking a leak. We are in the Philippines. This is not acceptable,” Abalos said in Filipino.
“Take down all their names and discipline them. Number two, let’s stop this practice. Take this all down,” he added.
After the hearing, Abalos said his order was effective immediately.
On Friday, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said it has canceled the visas of at least 372 foreign nationals for illegally working in online gambling operations and ordered them to leave the country.
Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the cancellation of the visas would give the Chinese nationals 59 days to exit the Philippines, as a more “cost-efficient” and “humanitarian” option instead of deportation.
She said that should they refuse to leave within the 59-day period, the Chinese nationals will be deported, in coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The 372 foreigners ordered to leave were part of the more than 40,000 POGO workers in the country, whose visas were canceled after the government terminated the license to operate of 175 POGO firms operating in the country.
Records of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) show that there were 120,976 POGO workers in the country as of 2020, more than half of them Chinese.
Also on Friday, Azurin issued a statement that a Chinese kidnap victim was rescued by members of the local police in Batangas City.
The victim, whose name was withheld, was rescued at a convenience store in Barangay Alangilan, Batangas City on Thursday.
A manhunt is underway against the suspects who held the victim captive for 20 days inside the Nueva Villa Subdivision in the same village.
The operation stemmed from the complaint of the victim’s Chinese boyfriend who told investigators of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) that she was last seen on the night of Sept. 16 at the Hammer Disco Light Club in Barangay Balibago, Angeles City with her friend.
However, the investigation revealed that the victim and her friend both left the premises of the club past midnight on Sept. 17 and went to an unknown location.
On Sept. 18, an unknown caller called the victim’s boyfriend asking for money amounting to S$2 million (P116 million), and sent a video clip of the victim while being hit with a baseball bat in different parts of her body.
The victim is now under the custody of the PNP AKG as operations continue against the suspects.