BI told: Terminate visa upon arrivals for Chinese nationals

BI told: Terminate visa upon arrivals for Chinese nationals
Chinese workers take a break from a POGO facility in Las Piñas City in this file photo dated August 16, 2019.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros called on the Bureau of Immigration to suspend the visa upon arrival scheme for Chinese nationals, citing reports from the national police suggesting that the VUA scheme boosted kidnappings related to Chinese casino players and workers of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators industry.

Earlier in January, the justice department opted to shorten the validity of the VUAs to only 30 days. Later in September, it ordered more than 2,700 Chinese nationals who violated conditions of their visa to leave the Philippines. However, the VUA scheme remained in place.

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Hontiveros cited data from the PNP-Anti-Kidnapping Group which recorded 24 kidnapping incidents in 2017 and 2018, 35 in 2019, and two in 2020.

READ: DOJ shortens visa upon arrival for Chinese tourists to 30 days

“The crime that POGOs bring to the country is endless. We've already proven at the Senate that many Chinese POGO workers are the customers of prostituted and trafficked women, and now, the PNP also confirmed that cases of kidnapping are POGO-related. This is all no thanks to the VUA scheme,” the senator said in mixed Filipino and English.

PNP data also showed that there was no casino-related kidnapping in 2016, a year before the VUA system started, Hontiveros said in her statement. Out of these incidents, PNP-AKG said that it has arrested 34 suspects of POGO-related kidnapping last year, and 31 this year.

POGOs figured in a number of controversies in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from links to sex trafficking, immigration bribery, identity theft, money laundering, kidnapping and prostitution.

However, the gaming operators largely remained open despite the community quarantines hoisted over most of the country, albeit at vastly decreased rates due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The BI began the VUA scheme in 2017 after former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II issued Department Order No. 41, which allowed Chinese citizens to enter the Philippines without having previously obtained a visa from the foreign affairs department.

RELATED: Fact check: Makati abduction an 'isolated incident'?

Hontiveros earlier in September urged the National Bureau of Investigation to file charges against the perpetrators of the BI's "pastillas" scheme, which she linked to the rise of prostitution in the country. 

“The VUA scheme is a dubious project. Our investigations already revealed that corrupt BI officials involved in the pastillas scam have also profited from the VUA system. They pocketed nearly P2-billion kickbacks. Whatever we turn to VUA, it is clear that it only brings persecution to our country,” Hontiveros said.

“It will be safer for everyone, Chinese and Filipinos, if all Chinese visitors entering the country apply for visas through channels monitored by the DFA. Suspended pa lang ang VUA ngayon dahil sa COVID-19, pero dapat na itong i-terminate. Air travel may soon continue, but I strongly suggest that VUA does not,” she added. 

READ: Saying POGOs have become 'beyond regulation,' Drilon wants licenses revoked | 'Women for order': Hontiveros slams Chinese prostitution dens in POGO industry

— Franco Luna with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio and Kristine Joy Patag 

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 17, 2020 - 2:23pm

The Chinese Embassy notes with "grave concern" a government plan to move Chinese Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) to centralized hubs in Clark, Pampanga and in Kawit, Cavite.

The embassy says in a statement that the move "may infringe on the basic legal rights of the Chinese citizens concerned." The embassy said it "strongly urges the Philippine government to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens in the Philippines."

It adds "according to the Chinese laws and regulations, any form of gambling by Chinese citizens, including online-gambling,  gambling overseas, opening casinos overseas to attract citizens of China as primary customers, is illegal."   

May 17, 2020 - 2:23pm

The government should continue its crackdown on illegal offshore gambling operations in the country, Rep. Eric Go Yap (ACT-CIS party-list), vice chair of the House Games panel and who supports the resumption of operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, says.

Referring to the the illegal gambling operators as NOGOs (Non-registered Offline Gaming Operations), Yap says the recent arrest of 265 Chinese people at an illegal gambling operation in Las Piñas City "should serve as a warning to those in underground operations and those who are planning to do so."

He adds in comments meant for the illegal gambling operators: "You have no business being in our country, literally and figuratively speaking." — The STAR/Artemio Dumlao

May 7, 2020 - 7:51pm

The Association of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators and Service Providers welcomes arrests in Makati and Parañaque of people involved in illegal online gambling as it stresses that its members follow the law. 

"We do not condone, abet, or tolerate any form of these illegal operations. Their existence prejudices the interests of legitimate POGO operators subjecting our members to unfair criticisms," the group says.

The government has decided to allow POGOs to resume operations, subject to quarantine restrictions, saying they are, as far it is concerned, business process outsourcing firms.

"We reiterate our commitment to comply with the conditions set by Malacañang, PAGCOR and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to ensure everyone’s safety," the association says.

May 4, 2020 - 1:24pm

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who has held hearings on human trafficking and corruption related to the POGOs, asks whether the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. is doing public relations work on behalf of the offshore gambling operators after Pagcor took out newspaper ads defending them.

"PAGCOR is a regulatory body. Why is it lobbying for the POGO industry?" Hontivers says on her Twitter account.

"Nakakabahala na mukhang may intent to dismiss the investigations the Senate has done with regard to POGOs' links to prostitution, human trafficking, and money laundering!" she also says.

"Sana ginamit nalang ang perang pinanggastos sa ad para sa COVID-19 response natin."

March 21, 2020 - 12:37pm

Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators as a sector pledged P150 million to assist in efforts against COVID-19, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. says at a press briefing.

Andrea Domingo, CEO of PAGCOR, says P90 million of the total aid from POGOs is set for medical supplies while the remaining P60 million is for the purchasing and delivery of food to communities affected by the Luzon lockdown.

March 15, 2020 - 12:56pm

Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, gaming stations, poker clubs and other gaming outlets in Metro Manila will be closed, Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. chairperson Andrea Domingo tells Superadyo dzBB.

Privately-owned gambling outlets have until midnight to shutter operations.

She says the  gaming stations will remain closed until the end of the community quarantine in Metro Manila.

Gaming stations and operations in areas outside the National Capital Region that have declared community quarantines will also be closed.

"POGO workers will be confined to their quarters at doon lang sila puwedeng mag-work from home," Domingo also says.

She says PAGCOR will allow POGOs to operate with a skeletal workforce, provided that the staff will be ferried to and from their workplaces in buses.

POGO workers who disobey the guidelines will have their passports cancelled and will be deported.

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