Senators’ Appeal for Online Gambling Prohibition and Recent Raid
MANILA – Two Filipino senators have appealed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to prohibit online gambling companies in the Philippines. This request comes in the wake of a recent raid on a licensed offshore gaming operator suspected of involvement in a large-scale human trafficking operation.
Human Trafficking Suspicions and Rescues
Local law enforcement rescued nearly 3,000 Filipino and foreign nationals, including at least four Singaporeans, on June 27 in Las Pinas City, south of Manila. The compound belonged to Xinchuang Network Technology Inc, a licensed Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo). However, authorities suspect that its online gambling activities serve as a cover for cryptocurrency and romance scams that exploit victims of human trafficking. Xinchuang has denied these allegations.
Senator Risa Hontiveros stated, “Marcos should ban Pogos now. Not only have Pogos made our country a playground for their criminal activities, they also owe our government money in billions of unpaid taxes.”
Since late 2022, Senators Hontiveros and Win Gatchalian have been leading a Senate investigation into cryptocurrency scam hubs in Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Myanmar that have been deceiving Filipino migrant workers into participating in scams. They later discovered that such operations had spread to the Philippines.
In May, they learned that Sun Valley Hub, a registered Pogo, was operating a cryptocurrency scam hub in Pampanga, north of Manila. A free port zone official later admitted that this was a “failure of intelligence.”
Allegations Against Xinchuang Network Technology Inc
The victims were initially recruited through social media to work as call center agents or Pogo workers. Upon arriving at their destination country, they were allegedly coerced by a “Chinese mafia” into participating in its cryptocurrency scheme. The victims were trained to create fake social media profiles using photos stolen from successful-looking young women. They would then establish online romantic relationships with male targets on various social media platforms and persuade them to invest in cryptocurrency.
Both Senators Hontiveros and Gatchalian found similarities in the operations of Xinchuang and Sun Valley Hub. Mr. Gatchalian also raised concerns about the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, which issues licenses for Pogos, being unaware of illegal activities despite its mandate to conduct regular inspections.
Senator Risa Hontiveros’ Strong Stance
“Human trafficking and cybercrime charges were filed last Friday against five Chinese nationals working for Xinchuang, whose lawyer denied that the company is embroiled in illicit activities,” he said in a statement.
The 1,190 foreign nationals rescued during the raid are being held within Xinchuang’s compound while the police investigate their involvement in the cryptocurrency scam. Foreigners who are not suspected of wrongdoing will be repatriated.
The Singaporeans remain in police custody, with the Singapore Embassy closely cooperating with local authorities. No further details about the Singaporeans have been released at this time.
Pogos’ Origins, China’s Concerns, and Economic Impact on Philippine Economy
Pogos began operating in the Philippines in November 2016, following approval from former president Rodrigo Duterte. In 2019, China urged the Philippines to halt all online gambling operations, citing connections to crimes such as money laundering, kidnapping, and extortion. Despite this, the Philippine government continues to issue licenses to Pogos, which contributed approximately 53.1 billion pesos (S$1.3 billion) to the economy in 2022.
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