Call to ban POGOs renewed after Porac raid yields PLA uniforms

By Wilnard Bacelonia

June 11, 2024, 4:57 pm Updated on June 11, 2024, 5:44 pm

<p>Senate building <em>(PNA file photo by Avito Dalan)</em></p>

Senate building (PNA file photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – Senators on Tuesday reiterated their call to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country after the discovery of People's Liberation Army (PLA) uniforms in a recently-raided POGO facility in Porac, Pampanga.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, in a Viber message to reporters, said the presence of PLA uniforms raises concerns about national security.

"This is clear evidence that POGOs are a national security threat to our nation. It has opened the doors, not only to criminal syndicates, but also to those who want to destabilize and infiltrate our governmental and political institutions," he said.

For Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, the discovery of PLA uniforms corroborates the information shared by intelligence agencies to her committee establishing credible links between POGOs and foreign intelligence assets.

"The implications of these uniforms should send chills down our spine. It is so clear that every POGO has exploited our economic vulnerabilities and that POGOs have now evolved into a breeding ground for crime and a national security threat," Hontiveros said in a statement.

She also plans to file a bill seeking to repeal Republic Act No. 11590 or the taxation of POGOs.

"I said no to that law, at ngayon ibabasura na natin ng tuluyan (and now we will fully get rid of it)," she said.

Meanwhile, Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. said he will support any initiative by the national government against illegal POGO activities.

"We support any and all steps of the government in curbing these transgressions against the prevailing rule of law in our country, and we stress that national security, welfare and the safety of our citizens should always take precedence," he said in a Viber message to reporters.

Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said the PLA uniforms strongly indicate that the extent of scams by POGOs is "beyond comprehension."

"Authorities investigating this POGO hub should thoroughly examine the extent of operations carried out by the suspected criminal syndicates associated with Lucky South Outsourcing Inc.," Estrada said, stressing the need to know exactly how the PLA uniforms are being used.

On the other hand, Senator Grace Poe said "the scale and breadth" of illegal POGO operations in the country have become "appalling and costly" for Filipinos.

"The recently discovered POGO hub in Porac, Pampanga was too expansive that authorities estimate they will need more than a week to inspect the entire facility," she said.

"For every operation against a POGO, the government spends millions for the personnel needed, food and shelter of the rescued, deportation of undesirables, filing of court cases, and other related expenses," she said.

Poe said banning POGOs will not only stop their illegal activities, but will also save government resources, which could be spent on social services instead.

Pampanga top cop axed

Meanwhile, the chief of the Pampanga Provincial Police Office (PPO) has been relieved from his post over the issue.

In a message to reporters, Police Regional Office (PRO) 3 (Central Luzon) director Brig. Gen. Jose Hidalgo said Col. Levy Basilio has been relieved “to pave the way for a fair and impartial investigation” into the raided POGO hub in Porac town.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo, meanwhile, confirmed that Basilio was replaced by Lt. Col. Maylanie Castillo, deputy provincial director for administration.

The search at the POGO facility started on Friday night, after the CIDG secured another warrant from a Pampanga court.

On Monday, members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) found camouflage uniforms with buttons bearing the acronym “PLA” which stands for People’s Liberation Army, China’s military institution.

Authorities have rescued four foreigners who were later confirmed to be kidnap victims – one of whom was found handcuffed to a bed frame.

A Chinese fugitive identified as Wu Li Feng, tagged as a “torture master” at the POGO facility, was also arrested over the weekend. (with Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)