By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has called out the Department of Labor and Employment and the Bureau of Immigration over the whereabouts of some 170,000 alleged “excess” Chinese off-shore gaming workers who entered the country since 2017.
Barbers, chairman of House committee on dangerous drugs chair, said the public, for a long time, “had been kept blind” on the real number of Chinese nationals who arrived to work supposedly as workers in gaming hubs under the Philippine Off-shore Gaming Operators (POGO) that were issued visa-upon-arrival and work permits by the concerned government agencies.
According to Barbers, there is an estimated 170,000 illegal POGO workers employed/deployed in some 200 colorum gaming operating in the country.
“We do not know exactly if some of these Chinese workers had been employed locally by the Chinese drug triads to work as chemists in shabu labs, operating a drug den, and as drug traffickers/distributors,” Barbers added.
He stressed that of the 300,000 Chinese nationals who had arrived in the country since 2017, only about 130,000 of them are employed in 50 licensed POGO hubs authorized by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporations (PAGCOR).
Barbers urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to make public updates on the criminal cases against POGO workers linked to criminal activities and for the BI and the DOLE “to determine if these workers had been stripped of their work permits and/or have they been deported back to their country of origin.”
Aside from whereabouts of excess POGO workers, Barbers said he is deeply concerned on the status of the cases of a number of Chinese gaming hub personnel caught by law enforcers for involvement in prostitution, women trafficking, drug manufacture and trafficking, drug den operation, online fraud, forging of Philippine passports, money laundering, illegal health clinics, among others.
“Lahat ng nahuli ng ating mga law enforcers, kasama na ang NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), against POGO workers ay wala na tayong balita ever since. Nasaan na ba ang mga ito, kinasuhan ba, nakakulong ba o pina-deport na ba?” he asked.
During a Senate hearing last March 5, days before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the PNP admitted that kidnapping, prostitution and other crimes is ‘directly’ linked to the influx of Chinese workers in the country.
In the same hearing, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLA) disclosed thatP14 billion of the P54 billion transactions by POGO firms from 2017 to 2019 were linked to ‘suspicious activities.”
Figures presented by AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela showed that around P138 million in transactions were linked to drug trafficking that the Duterte Administration had been seeking to eradicate.