Philippine Senate Names Suspects In Gambling-Linked Trafficking Ring

January 28, 2022
​​​​​​​A Philippine Senate committee has unanimously recommended criminal charges against 28 government officials and employees bribed by human trafficking and prostitution rings linked to the online gambling industry.


A Philippine Senate committee has unanimously recommended criminal charges against 28 government officials and employees bribed by human trafficking and prostitution rings linked to the online gambling industry.

The Senate committee’s two-year probe into the relationship between offshore-facing online gaming companies and human trafficking released its executive summary on Wednesday (January 26), stating that “billions of pesos” (tens of millions of dollars) was involved.

The summary said the probe “demonstrated … with clarity” the officials’ role in the targeting of vulnerable people by human traffickers and their enslavement to serve the “sexual appetites of an exploding market composed of Chinese workers in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) industry”.

Other victims included largely Chinese “foreign workers on spurious visa arrangements” and Filipinos who lost their jobs as a result of the influx of millions of Chinese labourers.

The summary notes the growth of prostitution and labour trafficking in connection with the online gambling industry, including the use and abuse of Filipina minors.

But its punitive recommendations focus on immigration officials who received money to allow Chinese nationals to enter the country without appropriate checks.

The probe found that 90 percent of immigration personnel at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport “joined the pastillas scheme and received kickbacks”. “Pastillas” refers to cash bribes wrapped in a way that resembles a local candy.

“It’s time to completely overhaul the Bureau of Immigration,” committee chair Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Wednesday.

The probe found that the pastillas scheme was run by former head of port operations Marc Red Mariñas, and his father Maynardo Mariñas, a former head of the immigration bureau’s Special Operations Communications Unit.

Details of incoming Chinese nationals were transferred from syndicates and travel agencies via the messaging app Viber to immigration officials, who would then alert frontline staff to the names of Chinese to be waved through, the summary indicates.

The heads and deputy heads of immigration for each of the airport’s terminals were named in the committee’s list of recommended indictees, although some in the list have already been indicted by prosecutors.

The probe recommended permanent disqualification from government employment and elected office for all those named, as well as an investigation into former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for appointing Marc Red Mariñas and permitting him and his father “wide discretion” over visa approvals.

Given that the online gambling industry had “made the country a destination for foreign trafficked women on a scale not seen before”, it also recommended that trafficking laws be upgraded to include online platforms.

The summary added that bilateral treaties to protect women also be drawn up because of the “lack of responsive coordination from the Chinese embassy” after Philippine officials alerted it to the plight of trafficked Chinese women.

The probe report marks another milestone in government constriction of the online gambling industry, which has lost around half of its licensees because of the coronavirus pandemic, pressure from the Chinese government and Philippine regulatory and auditing reform.

These pressures, along with the undoing of the pastillas scheme, have also seen the number of foreigners with work permits fall some 34 percent in 2021, according to Department of Labor and Employment data.

Among permit holders, the number of foreign POGO employees fell some 50 percent to 35,000.

Meanwhile, eight police belonging to a criminal investigation unit were arrested on Wednesday for robbing Chinese POGO employees in Angeles City, near Clark Freeport.

Dressed in plain clothes, the suspects entered a house in Angeles and illegally held seven Chinese men and a Filipina house helper in detention while taking some 300,000 pesos and an undeclared amount of US dollars, according to a Philippine National Police statement.

Two Chinese nationals and a Philippine national were also arrested in connection with the incident, the police said.

Our premium content is available to users of our services.

To view articles, please Log-in to your account, or sign up today for full access:

Opt in to hear about webinars, events, industry and product news

To find out more about Vixio, contact us today
No items found.