Senator suspects Chinese spies in Pogo operations
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Friday raised the possibility of Chinese military spies securing Philippine citizenship by obtaining genuine passports, tax identification cards, immigration documents and even birth certificates through fraudulent means.
Presiding over a hearing by the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, Hontiveros claimed there was a thriving “cottage industry” in cahoots with corrupt government officials that provides valid government-issued documents to Chinese nationals.
She said this came to light following a raid on Oct. 27 on a Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo) hub in Pasay City run by Smart Web Technology Corp.
The raid not only led to the discovery of a prostitution den and human trafficking operations but also to the seizure of authentic legal documents that are otherwise only issued to Filipino citizens.
Earlier this week, authorities raided another Pogo hub with a similar physical setup in Parañaque City.
The Senate inquiry was held right inside the building of Smart Web, where officials of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking also led a site inspection.
“Considering our current dispute in the West Philippine Sea, it is alarming that we are giving an all-access pass to our country to Chinese citizens through these Pogo hubs,” Hontiveros said.
“Why the need to cover up their nationality to become Filipinos? This makes us ask: Are Pogos being used as conduits to allow enemy forces and their spies into our country? Maybe Pogo and scam hubs are not the end game,” she added.
“Maybe the end game is to infiltrate our borders and weaken our national security with our own Filipino officials as enablers,” the senator said.
“If the President really wants to defend the country from those disrespecting our sovereignty, he should expel the entire online gambling industry from our territory,” she said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who joined the inspection, said abuses committed by criminals operating Pogos have worsened due to the failure of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to exercise its regulatory powers.
Smart Web was able to carry out its illegal activities right under the noses of the local police station and the Department of Foreign Affairs just a few blocks away, Gatchalian said, adding that the Senate was also just nearby.
“This is a failure of regulation and because there’s a failure of regulation, we have fallen victims to these syndicates,” he said.
Gilbert Cruz, executive director of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, told Gatchalian that the country’s “lax” measures in going after foreigners involved in illegal activities have emboldened them.
“[These incidents happen] because we are lenient,” Cruz said.
At the House of Representatives, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. said the government should remove and not just regulate Pogo operations.
“We cannot regulate an industry with unscrupulous players that are quick to take advantage of regulatory gaps and weaknesses … We must remove Pogos because the evidence shows we cannot regulate them,” he said in a statement.
“It is our moral duty to seek alternative sources of revenue that do not involve vices that inevitably lead to corrupt and immoral activities. We must redirect our focus toward industries that uplift the lives of our citizens, strengthen morality, and ensure a brighter future for the next generation,” said Abante, chair of the House committee on human rights.