POGOs come under scrutiny again in Senate probe on kidnappings

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
POGOs come under scrutiny again in Senate probe on kidnappings
Undated photo shows of guards check the temperature of Chinese POGO workers in Parañaque City.
STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — After a lull from being in the headlines as the pandemic largely disrupted their work, Philippine offshore gaming operators are once again under scrutiny as it appears that some of these gaming firms are also involved in the kidnappings of foreign nationals.

During Thursday’s Senate hearing on the recent cases of abductions, PCol. Rodolfo Castil Jr. — the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Kidnapping Group chief — said they found three POGO firms behind seven alleged kidnapping cases this year.

Among them is Cavite-based Xionwei Technology Co. Ltd. Inc., which is supposedly connected to five separate abductions. 

Also among the three firms Castil identified are Cavite-based L-Y Group Admin Pogo Company, where police rescued five individuals in one operation, and Pampanga-based Lucky South 99 Outsourcing Inc., where one person was rescued in an operation.

Castil said that the kidnappings of foreign nationals working in POGOs happened due to a shortage of manpower coming from mainland China which has largely kept its borders closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

POGOs tend to poach workers of other gaming companies by offering sweeter deals, he said, but these companies do not just give up their laborers without a fight.

“Once they hear about their employee’s plan to switch jobs, they will hold them and they will demand the costs they paid for their worker from their family in China,” Castil said in Filipino.

Of the three companies mentioned by Castil, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation said Xionwei and Lucky South have licenses to operate in the country, with the former even having recently participated in an inter-agency meeting on kidnapping.

Lucky South, meanwhile, was where police rescued Wednesday 43 Chinese nationals who were allegedly detained there, leading to the arrest of Chen Yi Bien, the company’s human resource manager.

Pagcor Assistant Vice President Diane Erica Jogno committed to senators present that they will work to cancel the licenses of these two POGO companies.

POGO’s social cost

Sen. Ramon Bong Revilla said that while POGOs contributed to the country’s economy and tourism, there needs to be a condemnation of the “seeming lawlessness pervading the industry.”

But Sen. Grace Poe said the social costs of continuing to allow POGOs to operate in the country may be too much compared to the revenues they generate, as her questioning of Jogno revealed that these gaming firms only netted the government P6 billion at most.

“P6 billion is not enough of a justification to host them here,” Poe said.

PLtGen. Jose Chiquito Malayo, PNP deputy chief for administration,  said 15 out of 29 kidnapping cases recorded so far this year were related to POGOs, an increase from last year when only 12 cases were logged from January to September.

“This could be attributed because we started to open these online gaming,” Malayo said.

But these figures could still just be a fraction of the real number of kidnapping cases involving foreign nationals as Ko Beng Sum, executive committee member of the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said POGO workers are reluctant to report abductions to authorities out of fear of being deported.

“The Chinese government does not condone POGO operations,” Ko said. “So whoever is working with the POGO or employees, if they are abducted or kidnapped by anybody else, they would not want to go to the authorities. Because once they go to authorities, immediately they will be deported to China.”

Crime hike or mere hype?

During the hearing, Poe also inquired about the crime rate in the Philippines as she sought to clarify whether the country is experiencing a crime hike or if it is all just hype fuelled by social media videos.

While data from the PNP she presented showed that the crime rate in the country slightly dropped to 8,469 index crimes from June to August from 8,535 index crimes from January to March, she pointed out that every day an average of 15 murder or homicide cases, 14 rape cases and 14 robbery cases occur.

Sen. JV Ejercito, meanwhile, played videos making the rounds on social media purporting to show crimes and acts of violence that were committed in the country. Most, except two clips, supposedly were not shot in the Philippines, Malayo said.

In closing the inquiry, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa sought to allay the public’s fears as he said “everything is under control.”

“Let us not be shaken, let us not be frightened by these videos because most of those heinous videos being distributed did not happen here on Philippine soil,” Dela Rosa said partly in Filipino.

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