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Melanie Porter October 31, 2023 4 min read
Philippine Senate Reiterates Need for Offshore Operators Ban
Lawmakers in the Philippines have renewed the demand for a blanket ban on gambling operators in the country as a result of a recent raid near Manila
As a result of a recent raid on a Pasay City building located along Williams Street conducted by a task force under the leadership of the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission (PAOCC) together with the Department of Justice, law enforcement officers in the Philippines have set free 731 workers.
Most of them were Chinese, along with seven Filipinos, and other foreign workers.
Operating Under Different Names
The operation was initiated after Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 35’ judge Maricris Pahate-Felixs issued a search warrant against operators Caic and Tein.
Smart Web was one of two Philippine Overseas Gaming Operation (POGO) companies that had their licenses revoked by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR). It was later discovered that the POGO company had chosen a different business name and was still offering its services to clients.
The same company also had a new PAGCOR IGL, which is an Internet Gaming License issued to all offshore gaming companies accredited or issued a license to operate in the Philippines.
According to PAOCC, PAGCOR’s staff had failed to thoroughly assess the respective area after the guards on the site prevented the inspection team from doing its job.
Senator Joel Villanueva was curious to know how the respective companies were still able to offer their services in spite of having their permits revoked. Villanueva called for an outright ban on businesses with close ties to criminal activities.
The head of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Sherwin Gatchalian recommended that POGOS would be immediately kicked out from the Philippines while also denouncing the gambling industry’s alleged ties with sex trafficking and sex slavery.
Gatchalian further added that PAGCOR failed to keep a close eye on the sector and that completely banishing the trade would be the only viable solution to stop the criminal activities connected to it.
Police data speaks about over 4,000 reports of POGO-related crimes, including human trafficking and kidnapping during the first six months of 2023. During the same period, authorities in the Philippines conducted 41,000 arrests tied to illegal gambling out of 50,000 nationwide police operations.
Criminal Charges and License Revocation Ahead
According to a PAOCC statement on the matter, as a consequence of the “abundance of evidence pointing to sex trafficking on said site,” the next step of the process will be the completion of an onsite inquest hearing necessary for filing criminal charges.
During the raid on the self-contained operation, two male Chinese workers identified with the initials S.N. (27), and L.H.Y. (22) reached out to government officers and claimed they had been kept against their will at the premises. The two men also showed the authorities signs of physical torture on their bodies.
S.N. said he had been allegedly kidnapped and sold five months earlier for the amount of PHP500,000 ($10,000) from another POGO operation. L.H.Y. claimed he was being held there against his will for over a year and forced to work for 15 hours a day.
The 731 workers were rescued from the second floor of the building, where they were found in an aquarium-style viewing chamber part of a massage parlor.
The authorities made six arrests during the raid, with charges of human trafficking and torture.
PAOCC also stated they would recommend that Smart Web Technology Corp.’s temporary license as an IGL operator be revoked on grounds of enabling human trafficking at their facility.
The building, together with the rest of the assets under the ownership of Smart Web will also be referred for freezing and likely confiscated since they represent “illegal gains.”
In August, the national police announced a nationwide crackdown on illegal cockfighting gambling which led to 1,245 individuals being placed under arrest.
In July, PAGCOR announced its intentions to clamp down on offshore gaming service providers with ties to human trafficking and cryptocurrency scams by raiding a suspect business in Las Piñas City in Metro Manila.