Philippine Senate Bill Seeks to Shut Down POGOs Over Human Trafficking, Fraud Ties

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In a striking move that sends shockwaves across the nation, a newly proposed bill in the Philippine Senate demands an immediate termination of the country’s contentious online gambling industry, popularly known as the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs. The sudden call to action stems from the industry’s alarming ties to escalating instances of human trafficking and rampant online scams.

With operations running legally within the Philippine’s borders, POGOs primarily cater to clientele based overseas, predominantly from China. The core accusation lodged against these companies, which are usually administered by Chinese nationals, is their alleged function as fronts for illicit activities such as human trafficking and fraudulent schemes.

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Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the key architect of the proposed legislation, warns of the malignant operations hiding behind the facade of these gaming companies. Despite their contribution towards generating revenue and employment opportunities, the industry has ignited a crime wave that has sparked anxiety over their overarching impact on the nation’s social fabric.

A prominent example of such unethical activity emanates from the town of Bamban, situated in Tarlan province. A local POGO establishment was cornered by authority forces in February 2023 over allegations of its participation in fraudulent cryptocurrency scams. This was followed by another raid in March for alleged involvement in cybercrimes and human trafficking.

Advanced to further intricacy was Senator Gatchalian’s breakthrough in a May 2024 Senate inquiry. He unveiled the fact that the contentious Bamban POGO building was erected on land partially owned by the town’s mayor, Alice Guo. Notably, Guo’s automobile was discovered within the compound, raising eyebrows over her unexplained extravagance conflicting with her provincial mayor status.

Adding fuel to the fire, Guo’s Philippine nationality is currently shrouded in ambiguity following discrepancies in the information she disclosed about her life profile. She has been incriminated for potentially being an operative of Chinese origin tasked with manipulating Philippine politics, a charge she vehemently denies.

The Guo prosecution coincides with the escalating tension between Manila and Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a situation that had initially alleviated under previous president Rodrigo Duterte but has vehemently intensified under the tenure of President Bongbong Marcos.

Well before the emergent Guo scandal, legislators and analysts implored an assessment of the potential security threat posed by the ever-expanding POGO sector. Sherwin Ona, a Political Science lecturer at the De La Salle University, emphasized the associated national security danger brought about by the inability to effectively scrutinize these entities. He insists that the unfolding Guo debacle should serve as a crucial wake-up call.

Under Duterte, the POGO industry thrived, employing over 300,000 Chinese migrants. Following increased regulatory oversight, that figure has now plunged to around 100,000 to 150,000, per official estimations. This dramatic shift further underscores the complex dimensions of these offshore gaming operations and their deep-seated impacts on the Philippine’s socio-political landscape.