Mass Visa Debacle Implicates Philippine Immigration Officials

January 19, 2024
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The Philippine justice secretary has called for immigration personnel to be swapped out, for fear they will destroy evidence of mass visa issuances involving fake companies, some of which likely mask illegal online gambling operations.
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The Philippine justice secretary has called for immigration personnel to be swapped out, for fear they will destroy evidence of mass visa issuances involving fake companies, some of which likely mask illegal online gambling operations.

Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday (January 16) ordered a probe into the Bureau of Immigration after so-called 9G visas, which approve foreign worker employment prior to arrival, were suspected of being granted to thousands of foreigners linked to more than 500 “fake corporations” or “non-entities”.

Remulla told immigration officials on Monday that the violations are an “affront to our sovereignty” and that the bureau should not issue another 9G visa unless associated companies are verified by the nation’s Securities and Exchange Commission.

He added that “many of these POGO [foreign-facing online gambling operators] companies” are likely beneficiaries of the incident.

“I will be asking for a fuller investigation … I am challenging the immigration commissioner to [make] this matter a priority so that we stop making [fools] of Filipinos,” the Philippine Inquirer quoted Remulla as saying.

Remulla also called for immigration officials to release all associated documents and “relieve or change” implicated personnel because “they could burn the files”, the Inquirer reported.

The nexus between corruption and the foreign-facing online gambling segment has been exposed across several government organs over the years, with the most spectacular being an immigration scam perpetrated by top immigration officers in each terminal of the Philippines’ largest airport in Manila.

Senator Grace Poe, a former presidential candidate, on Thursday demanded that immigration officials be held to account over the new threat to “peace and order”.

“We have witnessed how crimes related to POGOs continue to bring problems to our peace and order,” she said.

“These nefarious activities will remain unabated if personnel from no less than the Bureau of Immigration will keep the gates open to illegal foreigners.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who exposed the airport scam in 2020, said on Wednesday that the latest visa failures pose a “national security risk” and that the immigration bureau remains compromised by criminality and corruption. She also promised Senate scrutiny into the matter later this month.

“It has been four years since the [airport] scam was first disclosed … Why does it seem like nothing has changed? When will [the bureau] finally be fixed? How many more Senate hearings are needed?” she asked in English and Tagalog, as quoted in a separate Inquirer report.

“It is disappointing that the agency is again at the forefront and centre of this issue.”

Pressure is mounting on Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. over the future of the POGO segment, whose revenue for gambling regulator PAGCOR is considered vital.

A long series of violent and sometimes deadly incidents and other criminal fallout implicating POGO licensees and illegal operations has been capped by the rescue of thousands of Filipinos and foreign nationals from online gaming linked cyber scam operations in several locations in Manila and Clark Freeport over the last year.

The industry has gradually racked up enemies in the Senate, the Cabinet, the Chinese government and increasingly in civic society, over associated crime and damage to the nation’s reputation.

At least for now, however, PAGCOR and the Office of the President remain fully supportive of POGO licensees. 

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