A 23-year-old Taiwanese woman who claimed she was forced to work in an illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) outlet in Makati City yesterday sought the help of the Senate to get back to her home country.
Lai Yu Cian, also known as Ivy, was rescued by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on February 3 following a raid of the POGO office located in Circuit Corporate Center 1 in Makati City.
The NBI, along with anti-crime advocate Teresita Ang-See, brought Lai to the office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chairwoman of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality which has been conducting hearings on alleged abuses by POGOs.
In a hastily called press conference at the Senate facilitated by Hontiveros’ office, Lai said she needed assistance in contacting the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Manila so she can go back to Taiwan. Her passport, she claimed, was confiscated by her bosses at the POGO.
Lai narrated that she arrived in the country on October 1 last year using a 30-day tourist visa after she was convinced by someone whom she met online to work in an advertising company here.
Upon her arrival at the airport, Lai said she was picked up and made to stay at a dormitory in Guadalupe, Makati City for one week before she was brought to an office at the Circuit Corporate Center 1 run by a Chinese. After a week, she said she was transferred to work in the POGO office also in the same building.
Upon her transfer to the POGO outlet, Lai said she was then moved to the Acqua Private Residences in Mandaluyong City, where her passport was allegedly forcibly taken from her.
Sensing that she will be continuously working at the POGO outlet and not in an advertising company as promised, Lai claimed she tried to get home by telling her employer that she cannot stay for long because her visa will expire 30 days after her arrival. Her pleas, she added, fell on deaf ears as she was told to just continue working.
Lai said she attempted several times to escape but always ended up returning as her passport was not with her.
During her stay at the POGO, the Taiwanese alleged she experienced sexual harassment.
“They touched my body in front of other men and they laughed,” she cried.
Some 30 other Chinese who also worked in the same POGO office allegedly experienced the same treatment that the POGO bosses did to Lai.
Lai said during the times that her employers harassed and maltreated her and her co-employees, they constantly namedropped a certain Michael Yang as their protector.
The name Michael Yang became infamous after he passed himself off as presidential adviser on economic affairs in several occasions.
On February 3, operatives of the NBI Special Task Force, together with a Chinese interpreter, raided the POGO office where Lai was rescued. Four men identified as Su Jin Kun, Wang Kun Peng, Suzhi Yuan, and Chen Cai Bao were arrested.
The rescue came a day after Lai supposedly narrated her ordeal to a Filipina real estate broker whom she met at the Acqua Residences.
The NBI, in a letter to Hontiveros, said the arrested foreigners have no authority to recruit individuals and have been charged with appropriate cases.
Reacting to Lai’s story, Hontiveros called on law enforcement agencies to intensify its crackdown on illegal POGOs.
“We need to stop these illegal POGO companies. Maraming krimen ang nakatali sa POGO – illegal recruitment, illegal detention, at sexual harassment (There are a string of criminalities tied with these illegal POGOs such as illegal recruitment, illegal detention, and sexual harassment),” Hontiveros said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, Senate committee on labor chair, has earlier recommended the temporary suspension of POGO operations until government comes up with ways on how to regulate their activities.