Foreign crime rings, local pols backing Pogos — Gatchalian

Foreign crime rings, local pols backing Pogos — Gatchalian

Foreign crime rings, local pols backing Pogos–Win

LIFT THE SUSPENSION Bamban Mayor Alice Guo’s lawyers Lorelie Santos, Nicole Jamila and Stephen David (foreground, left to right) appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday to lift her six-month suspension as she can no longer tamper with any evidence against her nor does she intend to interfere with the investigation of her alleged wrongdoing in connection with the operation of a gaming company facing charges of alleged human trafficking and illegal
detention in a property she partly owned just behind the municipal hall. —GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Law enforcement authorities have found that foreign syndicates had been funding Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) and working with local criminal groups in connivance with local politicians and businessmen, a senator said on Thursday.

Sen. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian said the information was disclosed a day earlier by top officials of law enforcement and regulatory agencies during an executive session as part of the probe into Pogos by the Senate committee on women and children and the alleged involvement of controversial Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo.


“It creeped me out,” he said. “Our intelligence agencies confirmed what we were afraid of—that the root of this Pogo is getting deeper. It’s deep, which means that their influence extends to politicians, enforcement agencies.”


He said the syndicate network behind Pogos had reached local criminal organizations.

“They are now joining forces,” Gatchalian said during the Kapihan sa Senado forum.

“This is scary because money from foreign criminal syndicates is coming here, they’re funding local criminal syndicates,” he added.


Gatchalian did not identify the officials and businessmen suspected of having links to Pogos, as he could not elaborate on the disclosures made by the authorities during the executive session in accordance with the Senate’s rules on closed-door hearings.

READ: 157 foreigners, 29 Filipinos arrested in Pampanga Pogo raid

Guo and Bamban became the center of attention of the Senate investigation after it was revealed that the mayor used to be part owner of the sprawling property, which housed a Pogo operation that was raided by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) in March.


Suspicions arose that Guo’s true nationality was Chinese because the senators were not satisfied with her answers to their questions on her birth, education, family background, and origin. She has dismissed the suspicions and insisted that she is Filipino.

‘An enabler’

There was “concrete evidence” to show that Guo had links with a Chinese criminal syndicate that operated the raided Pogo hub in Bamban, Gatchalian said without going into details.

“We also have information that it was Mayor Alice herself who has active participation in establishing connections with different agencies for Pogo to operate (in her town),” he added.

Gatchalian said that among the documents that linked her to the Pogo operation were the building permit of Baofu Land Development Inc., which she had partially owned, and her personal application for internet service for the gaming hub.

“Mayor Alice Guo is the one who opened the doors for these criminal syndicates to come in,” he said.

“She became an enabler. Of all places in the Philippines, why Bamban? The only common link between the criminal syndicates and Bamban is Alice Guo … she served as the bridge between these criminal syndicates and Bamban,” he said.

Guo could not be reached for comment.

The officials who spoke during the executive session did not elaborate on the participation of “many” local politicians, enforcers, businessmen, and members of criminal gangs, but that “definitely they’re part of the web,” the lawmaker said.

The Pogo hub was in one of the 37 buildings in the 8-hectare Baofu property located behind the Bambang municipal hall. Gatchalian estimated that it cost P6.1 billion to build the complex.

“Where did that money come from?” Gatchalian said.

Disappointed with AMLC

He said he was disappointed with the failure of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to determine the source of Guo’s funds.

“They could not find the contractor, what bank was used to transfer funds,” he said, noting that Baofu land development started in 2019 while the AMLC claimed their investigation of Pogos had been “ongoing.”

“It’s now 2024,” Gatchalian said. “I’m quite disappointed with AMLC because they were not able to detect this.”

Guo on Thursday asked the Office of the Ombudsman to reverse its order suspending her for six months after a task force created by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) found that the mayor committed offenses as a local chief executive.

The DILG said that while Guo supposedly divested P2.5 million worth of shares from Baofu, she “remains to have financial interest in Baofu (because) she still owns shares of stocks.”

She also granted business permits twice to Pogo operator Zun Yuan Technology, the Pogo company that was raided in March, despite failing to present a fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC) in 2023 and in January this year, when it still lacked the FSIC and had an expiring provisional license from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

She had approved business permits for Baofu on Oct. 25, 2022, despite the cancellation of the license to operate Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc., another Pogo company and Zun Yuan’s predecessor. Hongsheng was raided in February 2023 by the police for allegedly operating a cryptocurrency investment scam.

Allegations of human trafficking and illegal detention prompted authorities to raid Zun Yuan’s operations in Bamban.

Suspension appealed

In a 31-page motion for reconsideration with an urgent motion to lift the suspension order filed by Guo’s legal team, led by lawyer Stephen David, the Bamban mayor said the pieces of evidence in relation to the March 13 raid on the Pogo compound had already been turned over to the authorities and she could no longer influence the ongoing probe or tamper with the records.

“Since then, the municipality has been fully cooperating with all the national and local authorities and agencies,” according to the motion.

It said that she also had “no intention” to interfere with the DILG investigation and asserted that “there can be no doubt” the charges against her were “insufficient in substance.”

The town’s business permit and licensing officer, Edwin Ocampo, and municipal legal officer, Adenn Sigua, were also suspended, but other respondents, including incumbent Bamban Vice Mayor Leonardo Anunciacion and his predecessor, William Cura, were excluded from the order.

On the day her suspension was announced, Guo said in a statement that she would cooperate in the investigation as she “agrees” with the legal processes and “accepts” the decision of the Ombudsman.

Gatchalian warned against the lifting of the suspension order against Guo, as this might affect the ongoing investigation.

Dangerous if lifted

“It’s dangerous for the preventive suspension to be lifted because we want the employees of the municipal hall of Bamban to be able to speak freely,” Gatchalian explained.

“If she’s there, of course, she could wield influence so it’s important for the preventive suspension to stay while investigation is ongoing,” he added.

READ: POGOs breeding grounds for illegal activities, says Cayetano

Gatchalian also echoed Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ call for the National Security Council to elevate the matter of Pogo operations to President Marcos since it was becoming a national security threat.

Hontiveros said there was evidence that may link the online gaming business to transnational crimes, such as money laundering and human trafficking.

“What I’m afraid of is if this reaches a point that we can no longer control this, and they will be ones controlling our government because there are people they pay to do so,” Gatchalian said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III doesn’t see the need for Mr. Marcos to declare Pogo as a national security threat.

“Hosting Pogos within Philippine territory to target foreign nationals to gamble online against their own domestic laws is simply bad and wrong policy. It is as simple as that,” he added.

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“They should be banned as a matter of public policy for being against our national interest,” Pimentel stressed. —WITH A REPORT FROM KATHLEEN DE VILLA 

TAGS: Gatchalian, pogo

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