Bamban Mayor Alice Guo charged with human trafficking

Bamban Mayor Alice Guo charged with human trafficking

/ 05:30 AM June 22, 2024

Bamban mayor charged with human trafficking

FIRST CASE Officials and agents of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and the Criminal Investigation Detection Group of the Philippine National Police file a qualified human trafficking charge against Alice Guo before the Department of Justice. —RICHARD A. REYES

The investigation arm of the Philippine National Police and an interagency body focused on combating organized crime have filed a nonbailable qualified human trafficking charge against Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban, Tarlac, over her alleged ties with an illegal Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo) hub in her town.

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) submitted the complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ) early Friday morning, carrying two cardboard storage boxes that contained evidence against the suspended local official and 13 other respondents.

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Based on a document shown to reporters, Guo, also referred to as “Guo Hua Ping,” and the other respondents were charged with violation of Republic Act No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, as amended by Republic Act No. 10364 and further amended by Republic Act No. 11862.

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Guo was linked to an alleged “grand conspiracy to commit labor trafficking” of around 500 foreign Pogo workers who were rescued during a raid on the compound on March 13.

READ: BIR to probe Guo for tax evasion

The authorities acted on the Malaysian Embassy’s report that a Malaysian national was being held, detained, and forced to work inside one of the 36 multistory buildings of the Pogo at Sitio Pagasa in Bamban’s Anupul village.

PAOCC spokesperson Winston Casio earlier said that the rescued Pogo workers included 427 Chinese, 57 Vietnamese, eight Malaysians, three Taiwanese, two Indonesians, and two Rwandans.

Other respondents in the complaint are former government official and pork barrel scam convict Dennis Cunanan, Zhang Ruijin, Baoying Lin, Rachelle Joan Carreon, Huang Zhiyang, Thelma Laranan, Rowena Evangelista, Rita Yturralde, Merlie Joy Castro, Yu Zheng Can, Jaimielyn Cruz, Roderick Paul Pujante and Juan Miguel Alpas.

‘Incorporations created’

The case stemmed from a March 13 raid conducted by the CIDG and PAOCC on Pogo company Zun Yuan Technology, located in a 7.9-hectare property owned by Baofu Land Development Inc. just right behind Bamban’s municipal hall.

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Justice Undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty, who heads the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, said the prosecution found multiple pieces of evidence linking Guo to the Pogo operations, such as documents showing that she applied for a letter of no objection for Pogo operator Hongsheng Gaming Technology.

“Her involvement in the lessor company also came out and there is also other evidence where her name appeared in the documents found in the Pogo compound,” Ty said at a press briefing.

Hongsheng supposedly changed its business name to Zun Yuan Technology Inc. after law enforcement agencies first raided its facility in Anupul, Tarlac, in February 2023.

Asked about Cunanan’s involvement, Benjamin Samson, lead prosecutor of the case buildup, said Zun Yuan’s operations began with Baofu.

“Then another incorporation was created. All these incorporations—we believe that they’re part of the grand conspiracy to commit labor trafficking. In one of the corporations, we found a document [with] the name of Dennis Cunanan,” he said.

Earlier this week, Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed documents showing that Cunanan, former deputy director general of the defunct Technology Resource Center, acted as an “authorized representative” for two Pogo companies: Hongshen in Bamban, Tarlac, and Lucky South 99 Limited Inc. in Porac, Pampanga.

“After piecing together the evidence, we concluded and we decided that he is part of the grand conspiracy. This is about circumstantial evidence; that particular document cannot state directly that he is part of the grand conspiracy but it is just one circumstantial evidence linking him to the conspiracy,” Samson said.

Ty emphasized that the filing of the complaint was just the start of the process as the case would still undergo a preliminary investigation, through which the respondents could present evidence to be assessed by independent prosecutors.

‘Due process’

“At the same time, if the case is filed in court, they also have an opportunity to state their side. There is no prejudice here, we are going through the due process,” he added.

In addition to the qualified human trafficking complaint filed yesterday, Samson said there was a “possibility” that the prosecution would file more cases against the respondents.

In a statement on Friday, Guo denounced the allegations raised by the PNP-CIDG and PAOCC, saying that the evidence against her was “insufficient.”

“Having connections to companies or individuals, especially when vague, is not enough to link someone to a case, particularly one involving human trafficking,” Guo said.

Following the filing of the criminal complaint, Ty said the department is now working on the issuance of an immigration lookout bulletin order and precautionary hold departure order against the accused.

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Last month, the Office of the Ombudsman suspended Guo and two others for up to six months after the Department of the Interior and Local Government filed graft charges against them. The Office of the Solicitor General is also investigating whether Guo has the legal right to hold public office before it could file quo warranto proceedings against her. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS

TAGS: Alice Guo, Bamban, human trafficking, pogo

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