PAMPANGA, Philippines – Good meals and decent sleep have become elusive as the days passed for some of the Filipino workers detained at the SKK Building of the offshore gaming firm SA Rivendell Global Gaming Corporation since the August 1 raid in Pasay City.
The firm, according to authorities, allegedly operated as a “scam hub.”
Eight days after the raid, all 84 remaining Filipino workers, including a woman previously rescued in Myanmar, have been released due to insufficient evidence, according to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC).
On August 5, 365 other Filipino workers were also released due to lack of evidence.
PAOCC spokesperson Winston Casio said the 84 Filipinos are still under investigation for violations of the Securities Regulation Code, and computer-related fraud and misuse of devices based on the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
“The 84 Filipinos that we are releasing were charged with violation of the Securities Regulation Code and Cybercrime Prevention Act. However, as of now, we don’t have enough evidence to hold them, so they are released, but are subject for further investigation. It doesn’t mean that the cases against them were dismissed,” Casio told Rappler in an interview on August 9.
Casio said the law enforcers are mandated to appear before the prosecution panel on August 11 to submit additional evidence, if any. Otherwise, the charges will be dismissed, he said.
Casio also said additional complaints may still be filed against them depending on the available evidence from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) by August 11.
He said new evidence may come as a result of the forensic examination of seized computers.
Of the 84 Filipino workers, 56 are women who all stayed on the 3rd floor of the raided establishment, while the remaining 28, consisting of 17 men and 11 women, remained on the 5th floor.
Ron, 24, said he had hopes of finding better work when he applied at SA Rivendell. He used to work as a real estate sales agent until his job was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the other workers in room 510 who were about to end their shift at 11 pm, Ron didn’t expect the raid on August 1.
“We were just working as usual. We were supposed to be heading home. So we were all wondering, what’s happening? We weren’t doing anything wrong, so why were we being questioned, and why were we still here?” he told Rappler in an interview on August 7.
“We didn’t expect the raid because we entered legally and even had government benefits – SSS, Pagibig, Philhealth. We were fully compliant. So basically, what we got into was legal, not illegal,” he said.
Ron and his co-workers in Room 510 have been puzzled by how their work became illegal, and the raid traumatized them.
“We experienced anxiety. We couldn’t sleep; we’ve been affected by the aftermath. Up to now, we’re still afraid. We shouldn’t be involved in this,” he said.
He said they had gone through the process of submitting requirements like birth certificates, valid IDs, signatures, NBI and police clearance.
“We all followed the proper application process,” Ron said.
Dan, 22, a former gas station pump attendant in Cavite, said his job was simple even a 6th grader could handle it.
“We’re just here to find people. We chat with them. Just chat. Male, female, any gender. We have our own computers that we use while working. It’s like it’s our personal space. We don’t have scripts,” Dan said.
Most of the workers in Room 510 were seeking foreign nationals through an online dating website called Travel Girls.
Dan said they were not allowed to use other dating websites or apps. They were also restricted from communicating with them on any other messaging platform.
The dating website prohibits them from taking screenshots. Like any dating website, they just collected basic information such as the name, age, location, and marital status of those they interacted with online.
Ron and Dan earn approximately P20,000 per month, with an additional P2,000 for perfect attendance, simply by engaging in conversations with anyone willing to chat on the dating website.
Dan said these conversations can last from one shift up to seven days, depending on whether they want to continue the conversation or not.
However, Dan denied that they engage in flirting, and that they keep the conversations casual. Nude photos are prohibited, he said.
Dan said, “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing. We’re only having conversations. We haven’t done anything else. They don’t assign us any other tasks.”
Chay, 35, a single mother to her 12-year-old son, was previously rescued in Myanmar from a cybercrime operation involved in cryptocurrency.
In Myanmar, she was once asked to perform 500 squats as a consequence for not meeting the required quota of five to 10 players. She escaped but was caught by authorities without a passport while seeking help before being rescued.
Chay graduated with a degree in Information Technology in Pangasinan. However, she had worked as a cashier in malls before joining the offshore gaming industry.
She joined SA Rivendell as an offshore gaming operations recruiter, a job which, she said, she wouldn’t do if she had the opportunity to start her own business.
“Here, I handle HR (human resources) tasks; I’m a recruiter. I post hiring notices on Telegram. It’s like, I search for what positions are open, like that. I don’t know which account it is. But we’re hiring for chat support. In Myanmar, I played games and taught others how to play,” she said.
Ron, Dan, and Chay said they were convinced that SA Rivendell was operating legitimately given its hiring processes.
They said they have even received free meals throughout their 12-hour shifts, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Some stay in gender-exclusive dormitories, while others, like Ron and Dan, can go home.
A total of 189 foreigners employed at SA Rivendell are currently detained at the SKK building in Pasay, PAOCC said.
Out of the 189 foreigners, 28 face charges for violations of the Securities Regulation Code, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
The detained foreigners are the following:
- Li Luwei
- Zhang Junsheng
- Li Yanwei
- Loh Sie Hung
- Sai Maung Maung
- Yang Jun
- Feng Zhiyuan
- Lin Shao Bin
- Li Bing Qin
- Su Meiling
- Peng Guangyi
- Luo Shui Ping
- Song Yong Zhi
- Peng Xing
- Zhao Shunan
- Li Xiaobin
- Jian Xiaolong
- Zhong Lang
- Liu Rong
- Chen Xin Qiang
- Qu Jian
- Guowei Lin
- Guo Huan Li
- Jin Shui Li
- Angulaj Selvaraj
- Song Hai Feng
- Zhang Lei
- Song Diedie
Casio said 28 can bail out given the nature of the accusations, but would remain being held because they allegedly violated visa regulations.
As for the other 161 foreigners, Casio said no criminal complaint has been filed against them yet. Yet, due to an ongoing investigation by the Bureau of Immigration, they will remain in detention.
“They can be released if they didn’t violate their work visa, or they will be deported. There’s no middle ground, no bail, nothing,” he said. – Rappler.com