Probe of POGOs being used for illegal ops proposed

A PROGRESSIVE House leader on Monday called for the immediate investigation of other Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs in the country that may have been used for other illegal operations.

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also joined calls for the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to immediately deport the 44 Chinese who were arrested by police authorities along with nine Filipinos for allegedly running the illegal operations of POGO in Barangay Tambo, Parañaque City Friday night.

"With these bulk of evidence, its either this group is part of a criminal syndicate in China or part of covert operations to subvert our laws and sovereignty," said Zarate.

It can be recalled that in a recent Senate probe, concerns of POGO workers being used to do undercover work for the People' s Liberation Army (PLA) of China was already raised, especially when two Chinese murder suspects were caught by police last March with PLA identification cards.

"Yet, despite billions of intelligence funds, all we hear from the security sector is that they are still validating this suspected PLA covert activities," Zarate pointed out.

"Aside from this we have also received reports that POGOs are still business as usual in many areas, like in Las Piñas where POGO workers were reported to have also collected relief goods meant for local residents affected by the lockdown," said the Davao-based solon.

"We have also received reports that a residential unit that houses five to seven POGO workers, each one was given a quarantine pass, contrary to what is legally mandated," he added.

"An investigation is in order because these incidents only show that even in this time of pandemic, these POGOs are operating with impunity because apparently they are being protected by unscrupulous and corrupt officials, " Zarate ended.

Earlier, Anti-Crime and Terrorism Community Involvement and Support (ACT-CIS) party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, a vice chairman of the House committee on games and amusement, asked the BI to deport the 44 Chinese.

"This is unacceptable. Whether they are licensed or not, their POGO operation is illegal. Heads should roll at dapat pagbayarin ang mga ito ng multa at ipa-deport agad. I-check natin ‘yung mga visa ng mga ‘yan kung tourist o working visa, regardless, they should be on the first flight out of Manila as soon as we resume flight operations. This is a clear violation of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine),” said Yap, the former panel chairman before assuming the chairmanship of the House committee on appropriations.

Abra Rep. JB Bernos, the new chairman of the House committee on games and amusement, called for a stronger vetting process of POGO after an illegal operation was discovered by authorities in Parañaque City.

Bernos who expressed his dismay that the establishment, which had no registration papers, continued despite the imposed enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila.

“Their audacity to operate illegally during these troubled times is disillusioning and is straining the goodwill we are extending to POGOs in general,” said Bernos. “How this escaped the radar of the authorities for some time baffles me, as they should have been monitoring the arrival of the foreigners who come in to work.”

“While it is true that our economy benefits from the arrival of POGOs here, their foreign employees should not repay our kindness by repeatedly defying local laws,” he continued. “The rules are clear: POGO employees, local hire or not, must remain in the safety of their homes during the lockdown.”

He said that the incident will be investigated by his committee once the session resumes, citing the need for relevant agencies to make the licensing process for POGOs in the country more stringent.

The raid by elements of Southern Police District resulted in the arrest of 44 Chinese nationals and 9 Filipinos and in the seizure of P1,335,010 cash, 73 passports, three caliber .45 pistols, two 9 mm pistols, 9 internet modems, 17 computers, 36 laptops, and 400 cellphones.