AMID reports of a growing number of kidnapping incidents linked to illegal offshore gaming operations in the country, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) has intensified collaboration with its partner government and law enforcement agencies .
During an inter-agency meeting between PAGCOR, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI ) on September 14, 2022, each agency committed to helping safeguard the well-being and safety, not only of Filipinos but also of foreign nationals working in the country.
PAGCOR President and CEO Alejandro Tengco said the inter-agency collaboration is a response to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s instruction to address recent kidnapping cases related to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) and other illegal activities. “The president said na higpitan na natin because the image of the country and of this administration is tarnished by these unlawful incidents,” he said.
Tengco said one of the first steps in the interagency business is to identify illegal operators. “The information we have received is that these alarming incidents of kidnappings came from the ranks of illegal operators. Although this is a challenge for all participating agencies, the good thing is that we receive information about the location of these illegal operations. With everyone’s help, we can focus immediately,” he said.
The PAGCOR chief added that licensed POGO operators have also shown their commitment to helping solve the problem by “monitoring their own ranks”.
“First, they will now ask their people to confine themselves to an area for safety and security purposes. Second, they will present an updated list of their employees as some have already resigned. Third, we will require them to submit a police clearance with their Offshore Gambling License (OGEL) Employment Identification Application. At least those who apply, although natin na malinis ang kanilang record,” Tengco continued.
If the kidnapping of foreign workers in the country is not mitigated, Tengco warned that the consequences could even affect legitimate POGO operators.
“If these kidnappings and other illegal activities persist, it is clear that not only will we revoke POGO operators’ licenses, but the entire industry could be affected by the decision that will come from the national government. So let’s help each other solve these problems as soon as possible,” Tengco said.
Meanwhile, PNP leader Rodolfo Azurin said the PNP is doing its best to ensure the safety and security of everyone – including foreign nationals working in the country.
“But first, we have to respect our law. There are more recent reports that have gone unreported but were killed while some are believed to be engaged in human trafficking and slavery. Sa ngayon, kaya nahihirapan tayo kasi sila-sila ang nag-a-away-away. Are we still going to wait for na kapwa natin Pilipino ang kanilang saktan? We don’t want that to happen,” Aruzin said.
The PNP leader also stressed the importance of a holistic partnership with different government agencies including local government units to deal appropriately with offenders. He also asked POGO operators to surrender their firearms permits to the PNP and provide them with updated information on foreign worker work permits.
Secretary of Interior and Local Government Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos also cited the importance of inter-agency cooperation and regularly updating POGO’s list of legitimate foreign workers in the country to avoid issues related to human trafficking.
“The problem is those who no longer work in a legitimate POGO operation, kung saan-saan nagpupunta. It is important for us to follow them because these kidnappings give a bad name to the POGO industry, as well as to our country.
Abalos reported that DILG had already launched a crackdown on human trafficking. A total of 43 Chinese nationals enslaved in human trafficking conditions were rescued in an operation in Angeles City on September 14. The head of the DILG has given the PNP and other participating agencies a two-week deadline to reduce all illegal POGO-related activities in the country.
DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who also attended the interagency meeting, said their agency, in coordination with the NBI and the Bureau of Immigration, will bring about the immediate summary deportation of arrested illegal foreign workers. and those responsible for the wave of kidnappings and other criminal activities.