DECRYING what he claimed was their blatant disrespect of our country and laws, Sen. Francis Pangilinan yesterday called for the immediate deportation of all Chinese involved in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry linked to corruption, abuse and trafficking.
Pangilinan said that since the POGOs started flourishing three years ago, the country has experienced an influx of illegal activities such as billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs slipping through the Bureau of Customs, illegal immigrants claiming housing and job opportunities for Filipinos, and rising cases of prostitution and sex trafficking that target the most vulnerable members of society, the women and children.
“Bastusan na ito (This is blatant disrespect [of our country]). We call for the immediate deportation of all Chinese involved in prostitution, corruption, bribery, and other illegal activities. We call for the immediate closure of POGO operations involved in said criminal acts, and for all POGO operations to undergo intensive investigation and even regulation,” Pangilinan said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, has earlier called for a temporary stop on POGO operations until government comes up with a clear policy on how to regulate the growing industry.
Villanueva had said POGO outlets have cheated the government of some P5 billion for non-payment of taxes.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros has likewise revealed a string of supposed POGO abuses, including the presentation of a 21-year-old Taiwanese woman who claimed she was forced to work at a POGO outlet in Makati City by a Chinese who lured her to come to the Philippines.
Hontiveros had also bared a modus operandi called the “pastillas” system involving corrupt Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials who supposedly facilitate the easy entry of Chinese tourists in exchange for a P10,000 “service fee.” The Chinese tourists, she said, were later also able to easily secure work permits and work in POGO outlets.
The scheme got its name since the service fees were rolled in white bond papers similar to how pastillas, a local milk-based dessert, are packaged.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente has already relieved the five terminal heads and the chief of the travel control and enforcement unit at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in the wake of Hontiveros’ exposé.
Pangilinan said government should now act on these Chinese abuses.
“We appeal to the government to strengthen its stand against the increasing cases of corruption within its ranks. Hanggang diyan lang ba ang halaga ng inyong serbisyo para sa bayan? Tama na. Sobra na. Isipin natin ang mga Pilipino. Unahin natin ang mga Pilipino. (Is this the way you serve our country? Enough is enough. Let us think of the welfare of Filipinos, let us put our countrymen first [above other citizens]),” Pangilinan said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday ordered NBI director Dante Gierran to submit to his office the soonest time possible the results of the agency’s investigation on the alleged involvement of immigration personnel in human trafficking and escorts services, particularly at the NAIA.
“I have asked the NBI chief to submit progress reports on these matters to me as soon as possible,” Guevarra said, who dished out the probe directive to the NBI last January 22.
Guevarra said he has asked the NBI to include the alleged pastillas scheme in its probe.
“The investigation of the BI’s personnel involvement in human trafficking, escort services, extortion and other illegal activities is already covered by existing department orders addressed to the NBI,” he said.
Guevarra said he supported the call of Hontiveros for a lifestyle check on all BI officials and personnel but said this will not be conclusive.
“A lifestyle check is not conclusive but only indicative of a government employees’ possible unethical conduct. Be that as it may, I support Sen. Hontiveros’ recommendation to conduct such a lifestyle check on suspected corrupt personnel of the BI, in the same way that lifestyle checks are conducted on suspected corrupt BIR, BOC and other government officials and employees,” Guevarra added. – With Ashzel Hachero