crimes in the Philippines

Filipino rescued from Myanmar scam hub found working in raided Pasay POGO

Michelle Abad

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Filipino rescued from Myanmar scam hub found working in raided Pasay POGO

RAIDED. A Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator service provider in Pasay allegedly conducting cryptocurrency scam activities is raided on August 1, 2023.

IACAT via Office of Senator Risa Hontiveros

Senator Risa Hontiveros says there are no 'willing victims,' only that the root causes of human trafficking and Filipinos going into precarious work remain unaddressed

MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino who was previously rescued from a cryptocurrency scam operation in Myanmar was found to be involved again in operations of a Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) service provider that was raided by anti-trafficking authorities on Tuesday, August 1.

Justice Undersecretary Nicholas Ty, who leads the Philippine Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), reported on the raid in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, August 2, and how most of the 650 individuals found at the establishment were Filipino.

The establishment, located at Zamora corner Gaitos Street in Pasay and registered under gaming company SA Rivendell Global Support, was said to be conducting scam activities. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) recognizes SA Rivendell as a POGO customer relations service provider.

Of the 650 individuals found in the establishment, around 180 were foreigners who were mostly Chinese. Ty said the Filipino majority was similar to the raid of a hub in Las Piñas on June 27, where most of the 2,700 rescued “human trafficking victims” were Filipinos.

Isa pang napakalungkot na nalaman namin kagabi, meron kaming isang natagpuan na rinescue nating Pilipino sa Myanmar, nandoon siya nagtatrabaho sa POGO na ‘yun sa Pasay,” he said.

(One very unfortunate discovery from last night was that we found that one of the Filipinos we rescued from Myanmar was working there in the POGO in Pasay.)

Ty said that the council had a list of Filipinos who were rescued from the region, which would be compared to future operations where Filipinos are found.

Filipinos have been among the victims of human trafficking schemes that have come up in the past year, where they are lured out of the country by supposed customer service jobs in other Southeast Asian countries, only to be forced to work in cryptocurrency scam operations. Some were abused if they were unable to carry out the scams. Similar operations were found in the Philippines, where foreign workers were also reportedly exploited. (EXPLAINER: How OFWs are trafficked into crypto scam operations)

On Wednesday, the IACAT noted that POGOs have “backtracked” and toned down on detectable signs of human trafficking following previous anti-human trafficking operations by the Philippine government.

For instance, authorities noticed that the operators were recruiting less foreign workers, and there were no “dark rooms” that were found in the Pasay raid.

So mukhang lumalabas na talaga na iniiwasan nila ‘yung human trafficking… at ‘yun ang dahilan kung bakit madami nang mga Pilipino na pumapasok dito,” he said. (So it appears that they are trying to avoid human trafficking… and that is the reason why many Filipinos are going into this kind of work.)

Ty said while there were still legitimate gambling operations in the Pasay POGO, most of the rooms raided were conducting scams.

Suspetsa namin dito, tuwing may inspection, ito ‘yung pinapaharap nila pero ano lang ‘to, this is just a very small part of the operation,” he said. (We suspect that every time there is an inspection, they show us [the gambling], but it’s just a very small part of the operation.)

Pagcor assistant vice president Jessa Fernandez said that the agency’s last inspection of the Rivendell establishment was on July 26. She said that there were “paraphernalia” that indicated signs of illegal activities.

But, a week since the inspection, with the establishment already raided, Pagcor had not submitted its inspection report on SA Rivendell to law enforcement, even though Fernandez acknowledged that this was the policy.

“It’s a remiss on our part, because right now, I’ve just been informed that they are still preparing the report for transmittal to IACAT and the other law enforcement agencies,” Fernandez told Senate women committee chair Risa Hontiveros.

“Being remiss, ma’am, attorney, is really an understatement. Because the inspection was a month ago, and you’re still preparing the report. Good thing the IACAT went through with the raid,” Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino.

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In a press briefing after the hearing, Hontiveros said that “willing victim” was not in her vocabulary, referring to the Filipino that was working again in a possibly illegal operation.

Pag victim, victim talaga, gaano pa man karaming beses siyang mabiktima at kailangang mag-survive sa ganyang phenomenon, dahil ‘yung mga ugat kung bakit siya maaaring nakipagsapalaran – or ulit na nakipagsapalaran – unaddressed pa rin,” she said.

(A victim is a victim, no matter how many times they are victimized and need to survive this kind of phenomenon, because the root causes of why they chose to risk their lives – or chose to risk them again – are still unaddressed.)

With the budget season coming up, Hontiveros said that the government’s economic managers should consider the repeat victim-survivors of crypto scam hubs in poverty alleviation strategies.

Makukuha na ‘yung mga sagot na dapat ginagamit ng ating government economic managers para ibsan ang kahirapan ng mga tao, at bawasan ‘yung pagkakataon na dahil sa desperasyon, dahil mukhang mataas ‘yung offer sa labas, kahit medyo kaduda-duda, or mapanganib na nga. Kung mayroong disenteng trabaho sa ating bansa, eh sino ba naman ang kakapit sa patalim, di ba?” she said.

(We are going to get the answers [on repeat victim-survivors of POGOs and crypto scamming] which should be used by our government economic managers to alleviate poverty among our people, and reduce instances of people going out of the country out of desperation, or because the offer outside is big, even if the job looks doubtful or dangerous. If there are decent jobs in our country, who would stick to danger?) –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.