The Philippine Star

The compounds are typically vast, occupying up to 10 hectares, with dozens of buildings made of quality materials. Many have entertainment centers and their own food courts; some have swimming pools. They employ hundreds and even thousands of workers. They operate around the clock in multiple shifts.

From the start of construction to the delivery of furnishings until the launch of operations, such busy complexes cannot possibly escape the attention of local government officials, starting with the barangay. Yet, following raids on illegal POGO hubs allegedly engaged in cyberscams, human and sexual trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and torture, various government agencies are now engaged in finger-pointing as people wonder how the POGOs managed to operate.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. says about 250 POGOs all over the country are operating illegally – meaning without the required gaming and related permits. But the illegal status is belated; last year, PAGCOR had placed all POGOs under probationary status and required the firms to re-apply for licenses. Since the probationary status was declared, only 46 have obtained the required license from PAGCOR. So how do the unlicensed POGOs continue to operate?

With PAGCOR washing its hands of the illegal POGOs, suspicion focuses on local government units, all the way down to the barangay offices. On the other hand, LGU officials in Porac, Pampanga are also claiming they have nothing to do with the operations of the massive POGO hub in the town, which was raided recently by members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission following complaints of human trafficking and scam operations.

POGOs mushroomed during the Duterte administration, and scandals soon erupted in the Bureau of Immigration involving the illegal entry of Chinese nationals who ended up working in POGOs. Since the previous administration, Beijing has been urging the Philippine government to shut down POGOs. The Chinese government renewed this appeal yesterday, citing the social ills spawned by offshore gaming and pointing out that many of the victims of serious criminal activities in POGO hubs such as kidnapping and torture are Chinese citizens.

Today, authorities are still working to identify the owners of the POGO hubs that were raided in Porac and Bamban, Tarlac. Apart from filing appropriate charges against the POGO operators for engaging in cyberscams, torture, human trafficking and other criminal activities, authorities must come down hard on those in government who looked the other way and enabled the POGOs to operate outside the law.

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