Pogo probe: Guo, 2 other Bamban execs suspended

Pogo probe: Guo, 2 other Bamban execs suspended

LAMENT Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban, Tarlac, who has been suspended by the Ombudsman, laments that she has already been judged before she is given the opportunity to be heard. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

LAMENT Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban, Tarlac, who has been suspended by the Ombudsman, laments that she has already been judged before she is given the opportunity to be heard. —Marianne Bermudez

MANILA, Philippines — Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban, Tarlac, under fire over her alleged ties to an alleged illegal Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo) in her town and questions surrounding her citizenship, has been placed under a six-month preventive suspension without pay by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires signed a nine-page order dated May 31 suspending Guo as well as business permit and licensing officer Edwin Ocampo and municipal legal officer Adenn Sigua following the administrative complaint filed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

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READ: Alice Guo: ‘I am innocent’

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The complaint, filed by DILG Undersecretary Juan Victor Llamas on May 24, accused Guo and other local officials of Bamban of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Llamas cited in his complaint the March 13 raid by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) of the Pogo compound of Zun Yuan Technology in Bamban.

READ: 3 senators cheer Alice Guo’s suspension

He said the task force found out that Guo bought eight parcels of land from Baofu Land Development Inc., which owns the property being used by Zun Yuan, and gave clearances to the company for its Pogo-related projects.

According to the DILG complaint, Guo issued a business permit to Zun Yuan despite it lacking some necessary documents, such as a fire safety inspection certificate and a provisional license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

The task force also found that Guo admitted to owning at least 50 percent of the stock of Baofu, but claimed that she “divested such interest through a Deed of Assignment before she assumed office in 2022.”

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Human trafficking

The raid was carried out after a Vietnamese national, a Zun Yuan employee, escaped from the Baofu compound and sought assistance from authorities.

Zun Yuan has since been implicated in serious illegal detention and human trafficking.

According to the Ombudsman order, investigators found “sufficient grounds” to suspend Guo, Ocampo and Sigua, saying there was “strong evidence showing their guilt” and that their continued stay in office might prejudice the ongoing probe against them.

“[T]hat there is a need to preserve the documents and evidence pertaining to this case which they may have control and custody,” read the order, a copy of which was provided by the Office of the Ombudsman to reporters on Monday.

The DILG complaint had included Bamban Vice Mayor Leonardo Anunciacion and his predecessor, William Cura.

Dodging suspension by the Ombudsman, Anunciacion said he was ready to assume his duties as mayor following the suspension of Guo.

Aside from being familiar with executive functions because he served as mayor for three terms since 2001, the 70-year-old Anunciacion said he was healthy except for mild diabetes.

Saddened by accusations

In a statement on her official Facebook page on Monday, Guo said she was saddened by what she described as “false and hurtful allegations” hurled at her.

“It seems like I was already judged before I had the opportunity to be heard. This is a violation of my rights as an individual and as an elected leader,” she said.

The mayor had denied her alleged links to Pogo activities in her town.

Other than her alleged Pogo links, the mayor has been accused of being a Chinese agent due to questionable details about her personal background.

The PAOCC is also preparing to file tax evasion charges against Guo.

“We found she has committed many violations (of tax laws),” PAOCC spokesperson Winston Casio told reporters on Monday.

“We may also charge her with violation of the Securities Regulation Code, along with officials of Hong Sheng, Zun Yuan and Baofu,” Casio added.

‘Documented’

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday hailed the decision of the Ombudsman to place Guo under preventive suspension for her supposed link to Pogo in her town.

“As it should be,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“Mayor Guo also undoubtedly has ties with Pogo. No matter how many times she lies or claims to have forgotten some things, her connection with Pogos [is] documented,” she pointed out.

Hontiveros said she had actually called for Guo’s suspension after she and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian visited the sprawling Pogo complex in Bamban.

“We also received information that she tried to obstruct the ongoing investigation immediately after the Pogo was raided,” she claimed.

“This should have already warranted a suspension. We only hope this is not too late,” Hontiveros added.

Gatchalian, who had exposed Guo’s connection with Pogos, said the Ombudsman’s decision was “a move in the right direction” since it would allow authorities to conduct their investigation “freely without fear of a cover-up while she is in office.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva also lauded the Ombudsman’s action as he called on other state agencies to “step up their game.”

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“Things like this should not have happened. We have been calling for the banning of Pogos,” Villanueva said in a press briefing. —with reports from Tonette T. Orejas, Maria Adelaida Calayag, Marlon Ramos, and Dona Pazzibugan

TAGS: Alice Guo, ban POGOs, DILG, human trafficking, Ombudsman, POGO human trafficking raid

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