The Philippines’ justice secretary has announced the deportation of at least 281 Chinese citizens who worked illegally for offshore-facing online gambling companies (POGOs) and warned as many as 40,000 foreigners now fall into this category.
Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Friday (September 23) that the current list of deportees will be sent home on October 1 or 2, pending Chinese embassy verification of their identities, CNN Philippines reported.
Remulla said there are likely more detainees in custody, to be deported at a later time, and that some 200 illegal gaming operations are being targeted for use of an estimated 200 foreign workers per operation.
"We are conducting surveillance now," he said.
"We are asking police, immigration officials to conduct surveillance on the illegal POGOs, if they are still operating."
The deportations suggest a phase of cooperation between Beijing and the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has replaced slanging matches with his predecessor’s administration, as a crackdown intensifies on illegal POGO activity and lawbreaking actions by POGO service providers, most of whom rely on Chinese labour.
Remulla met with Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian on September 21 to discuss Chinese labour trafficking and illegal detention and kidnapping associated with the online gambling industry.
The meeting followed the rescue of 173 mostly Chinese workers from two online operations in and around Manila where they had been held captive.
However, the Chinese government’s own crackdown on its nationals overseas who gamble or work for gambling interests means the present operation amounts to mass extradition.
Remulla did not address the fate of the Chinese nationals returning home, where criminal prosecutions await them for not obeying Beijing.
Remulla has also warned that the sheer number of illegal POGO workers could overwhelm detention facilities if they are detained and processed at the same time, leading to a potential “humanitarian crisis”.
Meanwhile, with pressure building on the industry from all directions, POGO licensees have also agreed to submit foreign worker applications to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the police for vetting, including criminal checks.
Philippine National Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said that checks on employee backgrounds will be implemented for the first time.
The rescue of foreign workers has coincided with a serious push by politicians across the aisle to ban the online gambling sector in its entirety.
This shift in tone toward POGOs also comes only two months after Remulla appeared to throw in the towel on investigating POGOs for criminal activity.
In late July, he ordered the NBI to cease all probes into the sector, citing the corrupting influence of POGOs on officers who had been extorting the industry.