Philippines Mystery Mayor Suspended, Police Purged Over POGO Links

June 4, 2024
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Philippine officials have suspended an ethnic Chinese mayor and several town officials, and stood down 49 police officers from duty over the mayor’s alleged links to online gambling, cyber-scamming and other suspicious activity.
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Philippine officials have suspended an ethnic Chinese mayor and several town officials, and stood down 49 police officers from duty over the mayor’s alleged links to online gambling, cyber-scamming and other suspicious activity.

In a May 31 decision released on Monday (June 3), the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of Alice Guo, mayor of the Tarlac provincial town of Bamban, as well as the town’s business permit and licensing officer Edwin Ocampo and legal officer Adenn Sigua.

The suspension order cited “strong evidence showing their guilt”, and followed a Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) complaint of “grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service” against the officials.

The “preventive suspension” without pay applies for a maximum of six months amid investigations into the three local officials and their links to a raided foreign-facing online gambling licensee (POGO) located behind the municipal government building.

The purpose of the suspension is to “prevent the accused from using [their] position and the powers and prerogatives of [their] office to influence potential witnesses or to tamper with records which may be [sic] vital in the prosecution of the case against [them],” according to Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ ruling.

The raid on Zun Yuan Technology in March resulted in the release of hundreds of Filipino and foreign workers, some of whom reported torture and other mistreatments. Police uncovered evidence of human trafficking, cryptocurrency investment scamming and romance scams, among other offences.

Alice Guo was later identified as a former half-owner of a company that leased land to the Zun Yuan operation’s predecessor company Hongsheng, which was itself raided in February 2023.

Last month, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros accused Guo of being a Chinese government “asset” and the company of espionage and hacking Philippine government websites, while revealing that two of Guo’s former partners in their Baofu Land Development venture are among a large group of defendants in Singapore’s largest-ever money laundering investigation.

One of those partners, Chinese national Zhang Ruijin, was jailed for 15 months over the case in April, while the second partner, ethnic Chinese Dominican national Lin Baoying, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on May 30.

Alice Guo has declared her innocence of any crimes throughout, including during multiple appearances before Senate committee hearings, where senators expressed irritation and incredulity over her lack of personal documents, vague descriptions of her Philippine upbringing and schooling, and conspicuous wealth.

Hontiveros told reporters on Monday that the suspension of Guo and her colleagues is “as it should be”.

“We also received information that she tried to obstruct the ongoing investigation immediately after the POGO was raided,” she said.

“This should have already warranted a suspension. We only hope this is not too late.”

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police has relieved 49 police officers assigned to the Bamban area over the incident.

Police spokesperson Jean Fajardo told a press conference on Tuesday (June 4) that the officers will undergo evaluation and retraining and will be replaced by officers from various commands across Luzon Island.

The Alice Guo and Zun Yuan controversies have served as fuel for anti-gambling forces in the Senate and the media, which continue to argue that the very presence of POGOs, now formally known as internet gaming licensees, constitute a danger to society, clean governance, the economy and even the national security.

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