Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday blasted the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for failing to monitor companies operating under its authority that commit crimes such as human trafficking and online scams.
“What is Pagcor doing?” Hontiveros said in yesterday’s hearing of her Senate committee on women. “Pagcor, as the regulator of POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators), should be actively looking into companies that they allow to operate in the country.”
She referred to a May 4 police raid on Sunvalley Clark Hub Corp. (SVCHC) in Clark, Pampanga, where more than 1,000 nationals from the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Taiwan, were allegedly forced to work on online scams.
Some 12 people were arrested in the raid, and the government is now repatriating the victims of human trafficking that were being forced to work there.
SVCHC has denied involvement in the illegal operations, saying it is a licensed locator inside the Clark Special Economic Zone.
“SVCHC, as a real estate company, is not in any way connected or involved in operating online gaming or call center services,” it said.
SVCHC noted that the Colorful and Leap Group identified by authorities as the “love scam” operator, is one of the sub-lessees of CGC Technologies, Inc. whose lease agreement with SVCHC is duly registered with Clark Development Corp.
Sunvalley said they have no knowledge of what’s going on inside the leased premises since they have no access to them.
CGC Technologies, Inc. said the company merely subleased its offices to Colorful and Leap Group, which originally presented itself as a gaming service provider.
Hontiveros has been pushing to ban POGO in the country.
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking confirmed during the Senate hearing that scam hubs do hide under a legal cover.
“It is appalling that this fraudulent cryptocurrency corporation, which has trafficked thousands of foreign nationals into the country to work as scammers, has been operating under a legal POGO,” Hontiveros said.
“The scam office, led by Chinese bosses, operates like a huge call center, with rows and rows of computer tables. This was where the victim-survivors would set up their fake accounts using different female models also hired by the company. They would then find scam victims usually from the US, through dating apps like Tinder, Facebook Dating, Bumble, and Hinge,” Hontiveros said.
“The offices even have video conference rooms that are set up to look like a bedroom, a living room, a gym, or an office, so the hired model can pretend to be there should the American victim ask for photos or videos to confirm her veracity. If they see the Americans falling for them, they will start convincing them to invest in a fake cryptocurrency platform,” Hontiveros said.
This scheme is also the same as the operation in Bayport NAIA Residences, Pasay City, which the senator flagged in the previous hearing on crypto scams, upon the report of an Indonesian witness who was trafficked into the country to work as a scammer.
In a video Hontiveros showed, a certain John, who was working at the Clark Sun Valley, said they were being brought to a “dark room,” also called a “meditation room,” whenever they could not find a customer, had infractions, or wanted to resign.
The trafficked victims were then locked in a room for three days without a bed or chair, and only a cup of noodles and a small bottle of water were given to them for an entire day.
“They will say, ‘Now you still want to work or do you want to go back?’ If we say we want to go back, I think they’d still keep us here until we change our mind,” John said.
Hontiveros said she found out from the case of Clark Sun Valley that scam hubs hide under the licenses of POGOs.
“This actually validates what was said by our expert resource person, Dr. Alvin Camba, that POGOs provide a ‘legal layer’ to these hubs, and the operations of these hubs remain beyond regulatory scrutiny,” she said.
Hontiveros also said the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) was able to seize an estimated P187 million in cash from vaults in the building.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla earlier said the government may choose to either deport or file charges against the 12 persons involved in the alleged human trafficking in Clark.