This is not good for the country’s image. The Philippine National Police raided seven buildings in Las Piñas City on Tuesday and rescued 2,714 human trafficking victims. Freed from a syndicate were 1,534 Filipinos and 1,190 foreigners from at least 17 countries. The foreign victims include 604 Chinese, 183 Vietnamese, 137 Indonesians, 134 Malaysians and 81 Thais. The others are from Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Taiwan and Yemen.
Reports said the NCRPO Joint Police Task Force, led by Deputy Regional Director for Operations Brig. Gen. Jack Wanky, and Anti-Cybercrime Group Deputy Director for Operations Col. Villamor Tuliao, served search and seizure warrants for computer data at a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) hub in Las Piñas City.
In a press statement, Senator Win Gatchalian described the latest police raid in a POGO hub in Las Piñas as “another testament that POGOs’ involvement in criminal activities has become rampant, and necessitates their immediate expulsion from the country.”
The police raid came just a month after the PNP rescued more than 1,000 human trafficking victims from across Asia in Mabalacat, Pampanga. The scale of the police operation in Las Piñas City, and the number of victims they rescued indicate how the Philippines has become a base of operations for cybercrime syndicates.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros exposed in May 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 called on authorities to check similar nefarious setups of criminals posing as investors in Metro Manila.
The opposition lawmaker likewise renewed her call to ban POGOs 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 said.
From the Associated Press: “Cybercrime scams have become a major issue in Asia with reports of people from the region and beyond being lured into taking jobs in countries like strife-torn Myanmar and Cambodia. However, many of these workers find themselves trapped in virtual slavery and forced to participate in scams targeting people over the Internet.”
“In May, leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed in a summit in Indonesia to tighten border controls and law enforcement and broaden public education to fight criminal syndicates that traffic workers to other nations, where they are made to participate in online fraud. Workers were lured with high salary offers and ideal working conditions in Facebook advertisements but later found out the promises were a ruse,” the AP report said.
We strongly believe that our police officers are capable of preventing cybercrime syndicates from establishing their base in the country. But the ball is now in the court of the POGO regulator. It must keep a close watch on them and see to it that no illegal activities are being committed within the POGO facilities. If the police keep on rescuing human trafficking victims in POGO hubs that provide legal cover for cyber criminals, then it’s about time to kick all the POGOs out. Otherwise, they will continue to destroy the country’s image. We don’t want the Philippines to have a horrible reputation as the center of cyber scams in Southeast Asia.