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Operations vs POGO workers committing crimes to continue

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
Operations vs POGO workers committing crimes to continue
DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said the government’s lenience through the adoption of mass visa cancellation instead of mass arrests and deportation does not mean they can continue committing crimes.
AFP

MANILA, Philippines — Government efforts against Chinese workers of shuttered Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) will continue even as the state adopts a “more humanitarian” approach through the mass cancellation of visas, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said yesterday.

DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said the government’s lenience through the adoption of mass visa cancellation instead of mass arrests and deportation does not mean they can continue committing crimes.

“Nothing changes in our anti-crime strategy. We will catch them. We will prosecute them. And hopefully, put them in jail. Because seeing what happens to victims makes us sad and angry. So, on that side of the normal crimes committed by Chinese nationals in this country, the crackdown is continuous. We hope to coordinate and seek the help and assistance of the police on this matter,” Clavano told reporters on Monday.

In a statement on Sunday, the DOJ said it has ordered the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to cancel 48,782 alien visas of POGO workers whose companies’ licenses had been terminated by the government.

It explained that this approach was more “humanitarian and less costly” to the government, which would have borne the brunt of costs to process and send the Chinese workers home.

“If the government itself will deport Chinese nationals, it’s too expensive. We will have to shoulder the flight, we have to shoulder the food and accommodation while they are still here in the country. Second, this is more humanitarian, we’ll leave it up to the deportees to leave on their volition, voluntarily, so that we will not arrest Chinese nationals. So those are the two reasons: one more economic and two it’s more humanitarian,” Clavano explained, noting that the cancellation of alien visas would allow the Chinese nationals to voluntarily exit the country, with those refusing to leave subject for deportation.

Meanwhile, Clavano said the DOJ was alarmed over reports about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among Chinese POGO workers.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. earlier cancelled the permits of 175 POGO companies following the string of POGO-related crimes such as kidnapping, murder and prostitution, with victims and perpetrators usually Chinese.

Police clearance

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said a total of 3,198 police clearances have been issued to POGO workers as of yesterday.

The clearances are given to employees so Philippine authorities could record and monitor POGO workers.

“I was informed that the documentation process of POGO workers by PNP units and local government units (LGUs) is underway. [This was done] to establish a recording and monitoring system that will keep track of activities of these foreign workers and ensure their compliance with PNP clearance and LGU administrative requirements,” PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. told reporters.

The PNP chief said that some undocumented POGO workers rescued by the PNP are currently in the BI holding area, waiting for deportation and repatriation proceedings.

The PNP has intensified the security in POGO areas following reports of crimes committed against them. Last week, the PNP rescued 29 POGO employees in Parañaque City who are allegedly victims of human trafficking.

FATF gray list

The government’s efforts to have the country removed from the international anti-money laundering “gray list” may become more difficult if POGOs are allowed to continue to operate, Department of Finance (DOF) officials said during a hearing of the Senate committee on ways and means.

DOF Assistant Secretary Valery Joy Brion said while POGOs contribute to government coffers, there are links to some illegal activities such as prostitution, employment of minors and violation of labor laws.

“Another risk factor for us is that we have a goal of coming out of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list by January 2023,” Brion said, noting that the 2020 report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council saw POGOs and their service providers as “highly vulnerable” to money laundering.

The FATF is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog that sets international standards that aim to prevent these illegal activities.

Being in the gray list meant the Philippines is under increased monitoring until it meets certain anti-money laundering requirements.

Just last June, the FATF retained the Philippines in its gray list as it stressed the need for the country to further strengthen its action plan to address strategic deficiencies in their regimes to fight money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing.

The International Monetary Fund has said that the removal from the gray list could help the country in attracting more foreign direct investments. – Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Louise Maureen Simeon, Paolo Romero

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