After drug dealing, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world. The International Labor Organization’s latest report—Global Estimates of Modern Slavery—said 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021. The ILO said it is urgent that the global community gathers the will and resources to end modern slavery.
The Philippine National Police rescued more than 1,000 human trafficking victims from across Asia during a raid in Mabalacat, Pampanga last month. The trafficking victims reportedly came from Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Police said the victims were forced to work up to 18 hours a day doing cryptocurrency scams.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros exposed on Tuesday the sordid details of a huge cyber scam operations unearthed by raiders of a Clark ecozone firm where over 1,000 human-trafficking victims from around Asia were rescued. She promptly called on authorities to check similar nefarious setups of criminals posing as investors. (Read, “Sen. Hontiveros aghast at details of huge cyber scam ops in Clark,” in the BusinessMirror, May 30, 2023).
The opposition lawmaker likewise renewed her call to ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) in the country, noting how they provide a “legal layer” to cyber scam hubs, which, she lamented, remain beyond regulatory scrutiny.
“The first concrete step to take is to ban POGOs in the country as they provide a ‘legal cover’ for these hubs, and the operations of these hubs remain beyond regulatory scrutiny. If POGOs are allowed to continue business as usual, the crypto scam and human trafficking operations will also grow at a frightening rate our government will never be able to overtake,” Hontiveros added.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Committee on Ways and Means, earlier called for the immediate ban of all POGO operations in the country, saying that the costs of POGOs outweigh the benefits they are supposed to provide. In his privilege speech on March 22, 2023, Gatchalian allayed fears that the ban on POGO operations will have an adverse effect on the economy, stressing the move may result in a “net positive” for the Philippine economy when taken into effect the potential benefits of improved investor and tourist confidence.
“Our conclusion is that the POGO industry has proven to be more of a liability than an asset to the Philippine economic and social order. In line with this conclusion, this representation formally recommends that the Executive Department and its concerned agencies immediately ban POGO operations in the Philippines,” Gatchalian said.
Senate probers on Tuesday dug into Resolution No. 595 calling for an inquiry in aid of legislation on human trafficking and cyber fraud operations in Clark authored by Sen. Grace Poe, and Senate Resolution No. 611 calling for an investigation on human trafficking inside the Clark Freeport Zone filed by Sen. Gatchalian.
It was also a continuation of the initial inquiries triggered by Gatchalian’s privileged speech regarding Filipino workers who escaped from “scam hubs” in Myanmar and Cambodia.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Hontiveros said that a licensed POGO has been used as a legal cover for a cryptocurrency scam and human trafficking operation in Sun Valley Hub Corporation in Clark, Pampanga. She said the scam is operated by a company called Colorful and Leap Group, which is a sub-lessee of CGC Technologies Inc., a POGO company licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking confirmed during the Senate Committee on Women hearing on scam operations that scam hubs do hide under a legal cover.
“It is appalling that this fraudulent cryptocurrency corporation, which has trafficked thousands of foreign nationals into the country to work as scammers, has been operating under a legal POGO,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros conducted an ocular inspection of the Colorful and Leap Group offices and residences in Clark, and met with some victim-survivors who shared their ordeal, which turned out to be similar to the love scam modus in Myanmar and Cambodia that the she previously revealed in the Senate.
“Wala ni isang magandang bagay ang naibigay ng mga POGO sa bansa. Krimen lang ang dala. Paulit-ulit na natin itong sinasabi, at sana naman sa bagong impormasyong ito, matauhan na ang ating gobyerno. Kick POGOs out of the country now,” the senator said.