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Philippine police rescue 40 foreign workers from illegal POGO operation

| By Zak Thomas-Akoo
The Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) warned the future of the entire Philippines Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) sector may be in doubt, following the rescue of 40 migrant workers who it said had been kidnapped by an illegal POGO.

The Philippines National Police (PNP) rescued the 40 foreign nationals from an illegal POGO company in Angeles City. Pagcor said that these workers had been kidnapped and forced to work for the organisation.

POGOs are operators based in the Philippines that target customers from other countries, typically other Asian countries such as China. The sector has faced a number of scandals in recent years, related to alleged breaches of both Philippine law and the laws of other nations.

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Benjamin Abalos stated that the outcome of the operation was due to successful inter-agency collaboration between multiple government entities including the PNP, the DILG, the Department of Justice, Pagcor and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who have been cooperating in the work of stopping POGO-related human trafficking throughout the archipelago country. Following the raid, Pagcor formally ordered the closure of the illegal POGO business.  

Commenting on the operation, Abalos said: “Our police officers are pursuing the other people involved in this and it remains an ongoing case. The person caught was a human resource development officer so we also believe there may be a more senior individual still at large.”

Abalos also drew a distinction between legal and illegal POGOs.

“We are shutting down this venue as an illegal establishment. But it must be said that we have no problem with legal POGOs. Indeed, we have no problem with either their policies or their employees, but the illegal operations give the industry a bad name,” Abalos explained.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) will be responsible for the rescued workers, and will investigate their documents and working permits.

Pagcor regulated the POGO industry in 2016, and since then it has generated significant government revenue. However, Pagcor chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco has said that even legitimate POGOs may suffer the consequences if issues such as human trafficking are not solved.

“If these kidnapping incidents and other illegal activities persist, it is clear that not only will we cancel the licences of POGO operators, but the entire industry may be affected by whatever decision will emanate from the national government. So let us help each other solve these issues as soon as possible,” said Tengco.

The DILG has given the PNP a two-week deadline to abate all POGO-related illegal activity in the country.

“The president has said this must be solved because the image of the country and of the administration is being tarnished by these illegal incidents,” Tengco continued.

Along with the POGO enforcement actions, the Philippines is currently undergoing a rethink of its online gambling regime, with senator Joel Villanueva recently filing a bill in the Philippine senate that would ban all forms of online gambling in the country. In February, a report presented to the senate found a “clear link” between POGO operations and human trafficking activities.

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