Philippines To Probe Executive Agencies After Latest POGO Raid

November 13, 2023
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The Philippine justice department is probing fellow government agencies over allegations that foreign workers at offshore-facing online gambling companies (POGOs) or service providers are securing “authentic” identification documents meant for Filipinos.
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The Philippine justice department is probing fellow government agencies over allegations that foreign workers at offshore-facing online gambling companies (POGOs) or service providers are securing “authentic” identification documents meant for Filipinos.

Justice department undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty told the ANC 24/7 news channel on Sunday (November 12) that its officials may target the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), health authorities and other agencies to determine how the documents were issued to foreign nationals.

Birth certificates, disabled person IDs, driver’s licences and passports have been fraudulently issued to “at least ten” foreigners, Immigration Bureau spokesperson Dana Sandoval told ANC 24/7 in a separate report. Most or all of the recipients are suspected of POGO links.

Ty said the “common denominator” of the incidents are links to organised crime.

“An ordinary criminal can’t do this,” he said. “A lot of resources and people are needed to commit these crimes.

“It is easy to think that some government agencies are helping these criminals because they will not be this strong and complacent if no one is helping them."

The justice department said “fixers” could be operating within government agencies to support organised crime with POGO connections.

“We need to look into these agencies who issued these legitimate IDs to foreign nationals, whether it’s the BIR or the PhilHealth [Philippine Health Insurance Corp], to know who should be accountable,” Ty said.

The latest investigation into POGO-linked organised crime follows a police raid of a POGO facility on October 27 in Pasay City, near Manila’s international airport, in which at least 600 people were detained on suspicion of cyberscamming operations and prostitution. Some workers have alleged physical mistreatment.

The raid uncovered massage parlours, bedrooms, karaoke rooms, a restaurant, a “torture chamber” to punish coerced workers and an “aquarium” with a viewing window through which trafficked women from the Philippines, China, Vietnam and South Korea were displayed.

Citing justice secretary Crispin Remulla, the Inquirer newspaper reported that police asked the Chinese embassy in Manila to assist in the identification of Chinese nationals suspected of running the “large-scale” and “very-well capitalised” operation.

Leading anti-gambling advocate Senator Risa Hontiveros and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Friday (November 10) inspected the raided company’s premises and named it as Smart Web Technology Corp, an entity allegedly controlled by POGO service providers Xusheng Technology Corp and Freego Computer Gaming OPC.

Xusheng Technology is listed on gambling regulator PAGCOR’s website as a service provider with a cancelled licence as of mid-July, but Freego Computer Gaming remained a licensed service provider as of August 8.

The Pasay facility adds to a growing number of raids on POGO-linked facilities resulting in the detention and/or rescue of thousands of enslaved and trafficked workers from the Philippines, China and elsewhere in Asia.

The latest raid comes as senators hostile to the POGO gambling segment mobilise resources for a new inquiry into POGOs and their regulation, further embarrassing PAGCOR and other government agencies.

A joint Senate committee in September recommended the complete shutdown of POGOs, calling for a Senate resolution for the same.

However, the online gambling industry’s future is a decision for the executive branch and the Office of the President. Senate minority leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Saturday said as much, telling Philippine radio that government senators must convince executive officials and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that POGOs have “not given our country any good”.

PAGCOR chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco told a gaming conference in Manila earlier in September that a revised set of POGO licensees would be released at the end of that month following a thorough vetting, including their website URLs.

It was not immediately clear if the raid in Pasay City has contributed to the delay in PAGCOR’s publication of the revised licensee data for POGOs and the much larger pool of service providers. PAGCOR officials were not available for comment at the time of publication.

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