‘Red flags’ but ignored

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The raided establishments in Tarlac and Pampanga fronting as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) have many similarities, including their origins. Such strong indications were culled from what have been distilled and filtered from varied raw information gathered from the many on-going investigations. Simultaneously taking place, the results of these investigations have shown these POGOs have plied their illicit trades with obvious impunity for quite a while already.

Despite having invalid to no license at all from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor), the two establishments – along with the other raided POGOs – are all located in sprawling “self-contained” compounds. With lots of building structures suspected as running online scam hubs, the law enforcement authorities swooped down and stumbled into much worse discoveries inside and below grounds in these POGO compounds.

Led by the 40-man Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), the raiders were also able to rescue victims of illegal detention, human trafficking, abused POGO workers but who have no valid working permits from the Bureau of Immigration (BI). Arrested with these rescued POGO workers, mostly Chinese and Mandarin-speaking nationals from Malaysia and Vietnam, are several fugitives of the law in their homelands.

Traced in these POGOs were cases of heinous crimes of kidnapping, illegal drugs, and even money-laundering. And lately, these POGO hubs were found fronting for prostitution dens. Other than the torture tools from bats, handcuffs to baton-tasers seized from these POGO raids, at least 18 military uniforms and other paraphernalia identified with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were recovered in Porac. Naturally, the same POGO compound was stashed with high-powered guns and ammunitions.

These are the emerging threats processed from the verified and validated information after these POGO fronts were raided.

It did not escape the keen observation of veteran police investigators who are also skilled in the science of intelligence analysis. Speaking in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Director-General Ricardo De Leon and PAOCC Executive Director Gilbert Cruz echoed the growing concern over the POGOs as potential sources of national security threats. However, both officials asked not to go into specifics yet while a thorough investigation and vetting are completed.

Both De Leon and Cruz are retired Police generals who are still active on the job as public servants in these agencies directly involved in ensuring our country’s peace and order situation and national security. Their respective agencies are making deep dives into the crime wave spawned by POGOs since they started way back in 2016 in our country.

De Leon could only disclose for now the NICA’s inter-agency links have already gone through with the intelligence evaluation. As of this time, De Leon sought to calm down fears of alleged presence of “sleeper cells” for the armed spies who might have slipped inside the Philippines in these POGOs.

“That’s why we need to work together the links and the linkages,” De Leon pointed out. At present, he noted, the pieces of evidence are “not conclusive” but all relevant “forensic” examinations are being done. “The challenge is for our law enforcement, they cannot turn a blind eye. If they don’t act, they’re answerable,” De Leon pointed out.

Directly under the Office of the President that is chaired by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Cruz announced for his part that the PAOCC is set to file criminal charges, including forfeiture cases against the assets, monies, equipment and real estate properties of registered owners of these raided POGOs.

In the raided POGO in Bamban, Tarlac, Cruz cited, 49 policemen were relieved from their posts and are currently undergoing investigations by the National Police Commission. Cruz also cited the case of Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban who is now under a preventive suspension for six months by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Mayor Guo is being investigated by the Ombudsman based on the complaint filed against her by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). In her defense, lawyers of Mayor Guo argued it is PAGCor’s mandate, not the Mayors, to monitor 24/7 their licensed POGOs.

Last week, the head of the Pampanga Police Provincial Office (PPO) and the chief of Porac municipal police office were both relieved for their respective failure or negligence to detect the presence of criminal activities inside Lucky South 99 POGO hub. As to Mayor Jaime Capil of Porac who earlier denied he is a “protector” of the POGO crime hub in his own municipality, Cruz asked the local chief executive to explain the latter’s signatures in both the Letter of No Objection (LONO) and the Porac Sangguniang Council approval of the business permit for Lucky South 99.

Cruz also bewailed the “leaks” of the PAOCC raid in Porac not just once but thrice. The PAOCC was forced to call off their raid after a Malolos judge withdrew the search warrant due to “technicalities” after the agency did not specify the persons and items. This enabled many of the Porac POGO hub to escape and only a few and mostly the victims were left behind, he rued.

According to Cruz, the PAOCC have so far dismantled eight illegal POGO hubs. From PAGCor records, Cruz said there are only 46 licensed POGOs all over the country. He estimated about 300 or so POGOs are illegal, mostly in Metro Manila.

Cruz explained the PAOCC could only act based on complaints and credible, verified information from concerned citizens. These reports, Cruz noted, mostly mentioned the presence of suspicious-looking people and the unusual flurry of activities in their communities.

“These are just some of the many red flags,” the PAOCC chief quipped.

Concerned authorities though seemed to be deafened by hush money to hear the noise and chatter of the illegal business and crime trade around these POGO fronts.

Or are they blinded by color of money not to see these blatant violations of our country’s laws?

Cruz counts on breaking the back of these POGO fronts with no less than Bersamin – a former Chief Justice – directing the campaign against them all the way to the courts.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with