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The longer Malacañang ignores calls to shut down and ban Philippine offshore gaming operators, or Pogos, the more sinister the crimes become that are associated with this pernicious online gambling business.

During a raid on a Pogo hub in Pasay City on Oct. 27, authorities stumbled upon various crimes that it has been fronting for: human trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping for ransom, torture, and online scams.

Found at the Smart Web Technology Corp. were massage rooms, an “aquarium-style” chamber for viewing women for prostitution, and a torture chamber for employees who fail to meet quotas for online dating and other scams. Scores of Filipino trafficking victims were rescued, while 448 foreign nationals, mostly Chinese, were detained.As if the illegal operations were not horrific enough, new revelations indicate that Philippine legal documents have been sold to foreigners to legitimize their stay in the country. Philippine passports, said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, are being sold for P500,000 to foreigners, including Chinese nationals working in the Pogo industry. This new scam was uncovered during recent raids on Pogo hubs, where legal documents issued only to Filipinos, such as birth certificates, tax identification, and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. cards were found. Hontiveros said her office found social media posts offering government-issued documents for sale.

This is a new scam that, senators agreed, has national security implications. Hontiveros recalled reports about Chinese spies or “sleeper cells’’ using Pogos as cover. “Considering our current dispute [with China] in the West Philippine Sea, it is alarming that we are giving an all-access pass to our country to Chinese citizens through these Pogo hubs,” she warned.Hontiveros added that Pogos have been relocating to provinces following raids in Metro Manila. “That’s why we are saying that operating Pogos is not the end game; [it is] to infiltrate important government institutions and undermine our national security,” the senator said.

The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the National Security Council have been asked to uncover the involvement of corrupt government officials in the new scam, said Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri. “We’ve seen kidnap-for-ransom, extortion, and sex trafficking [activities] being done by foreigners using our legal documents. It’s unheard of in other countries,” Zubiri said.

At a Senate hearing, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the foreigners had submitted genuine birth certificates issued by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) when they applied for Philippine passports. This admission alone indicates how the moneyed Pogos have further corrupted different levels in our government. Facilitating illegal transactions with sizeable bribes are not unheard of in this country, so it is not surprising that mercenary state agents would allow these foreigners to get past immigration, obtain legal Philippine documents, and even get VIP protection from law-enforcers and local government units hosting these criminal hubs.

“These syndicates have already corrupted our enforcers, enabling them to operate freely, even beside the police station,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said.

The “pastillas” scam alone, involving the payment of P10,000 for every Chinese Pogo worker allowed to enter the country even without proper documents, had exposed how shamefully corrupt our immigration and airport personnel can be, from its top officials to the rank and file. Are the DFA and the PSA, which are supposed to be the gatekeepers of our national identification documents, also falling prey to these Chinese syndicates? Even the newly-minted SIM registration law had been easily breached, with SIM cards also being used in the Pogo scams.

How can all the government agencies—most of them awash in confidential funds—fail all at once when it comes to these Pogos?

The answer lies in the government’s blissful ignorance and tolerance of the monster it had created in order to raise gambling revenues. Despite overwhelming evidence of crimes and various social ills that Pogos have visited on our land, Malacañang continues to ignore recommendations from its own economic managers, major business groups, and the Senate to expel this industry catering to Chinese nationals in the mainland, which is expressly prohibited by the Chinese government.

Beijing must be laughing at us, and at how we are raising hell over China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea but could not, would not, let go of its own alarming presence in the illegal gambling industry for love of money.

President Marcos had rejected calls to ban the Pogos, reasoning that the “problems comes from the illegal ones, not the legal ones.’’ But how to deal with the problem of “the illegal ones,” when the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) has proven inutile in going after them? Last month, Pagcor came up with an ingenious scheme—changing the name of Pogos to IGLs or internet gaming licensees. Brilliant! A different name for the same monster.

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