Philippine Police Rescue 2,700 Enslaved POGO-Linked Workers

June 28, 2023
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Philippine police have rescued more than 2,700 suspected victims of human trafficking in a single operation targeting a compound in southern Manila controlled by a PAGCOR-licensed online gambling service provider.

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Philippine police have rescued more than 2,700 suspected victims of human trafficking in a single operation targeting a compound in southern Manila controlled by a PAGCOR-licensed online gambling service provider.

The multi-agency operation in the early hours of Tuesday (June 27) freed 2,724 enslaved workers in eight buildings in Las Piñas City in southern Metro Manila, police said.

Filipinos made up more than half of the victims, with 1,534 being freed, according to police figures updated on Wednesday. Police made arrests but details were not immediately available.

The foreign victims from at least 17 countries were mostly Chinese nationals (604), with more than 100 victims from Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, police said. The group also included Thais, Burmese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Yemenis and African victims from Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.

Philippine media reports identified the operation as a “POGO hub”, an often loose description for any kind of online gambling operation targeting foreign customers, legal or not.

However, data from the regulator PAGCOR show that the raided Chinese-run company, Xincheng Network Technology, is an accredited service provider to POGO licensees.

Police said that only two of the eight buildings that were raided had permits to run POGO-linked operations.

CNN Philippines and GMA News quoted Anti-Cybercrime Group spokesperson Michelle Sabino as saying that the victims were recruited on a Facebook page and forced to support online casino operations in 12-hour shifts.

Only a small number of workers were allowed to leave the premises between shifts, she said, adding that the operation may also have included "dating, investment and cryptocurrency scams".

Several operators of the compound named by the police have Chinese names, while arrest warrants have been issued for four people with Filipino names who incorporated the company.

The number of people freed on Tuesday easily surpasses the more than 1,100 victims of human trafficking rescued in a raid on a compound in Clark Freeport on May 4.

That raid embarrassed officials in Clark and PAGCOR officials, forcing them to block applications by POGOs and service providers to set up operations in the special economic zone, and to heavily fine a prominent gambling mogul whose POGO operation covered the compound.

Smaller incidents involving captive workers have occurred over the years in the Philippines, but for the most part, they have been linked to underground operations rather than licensed entities.

The raid this week suggests that the human trafficking problem may be endemic, deepening political difficulties for PAGCOR and the government in explaining how Cambodian-style human trafficking rings and mass operations could infiltrate the regulated online gambling industry.

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