Bamban, Tarlac: Shaken by a raided fortress and wakened by Alice Guo

Lian Buan, Joann Manabat

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Bamban, Tarlac: Shaken by a raided fortress and wakened by Alice Guo

MAYOR. Alice Guo runs and wins as mayor of Bamban, Tarlac in the 2022 elections. Screenshot from Alice Guo's YouTube page

In a small, quiet town ruled successively by dynastic bets, a businesswoman of Chinese descent rises out of nowhere. Two years into her mayorship, a fortress masking illegal operations is raided.

Tarlac is a first-class province known for its agriculture as well as proximity to power. It’s a two-hour drive from the capital Manila via expressways, and it’s home to the Philippines’ most powerful dynasties, the Cojuangcos and the Aquinos. But outside its provincial capital, Tarlac City, the farther this power feels.

Bamban is a relatively quiet town in the southernmost part of the province. Its name derived from the aquatic plant, bambania, which was abundant in its valleys and along riverbanks, Bamban was established during the Spanish regime in the 1700s. It remains a second-class municipality with 15 barangays across 39,000 hectares.

The town’s slow pace of life depicts how simple living in Bamban is – a stark contrast to nearby progressive Capas, a first-class municipality, and the component Mabalacat City in Pampanga.

A vendor at a public market said that it only gets busy between dawn till morning and late in the afternoon. Just like the olden days of rural life, she said.

“Some stalls remain open, like mine, but basically the market closes around 10 am to 4 pm and then it opens again later in the day when people start to come by again,” she said in Kapampangan.

SUPPORT. A public market in Barangay San Nicolas puts up signages in support of their mayor, Alice Guo, amid the controversy and her ties to POGOs. Joann Manabat/Rappler

One resident in Bamban gauged their town’s progress by the iconic Jollibee and McDonald’s finally coming to their second-class municipality.

“She has done well for Bamban, everything we see – Jollibee, all of it, that was because of her. These solar lampposts, all her,” another resident said in Filipino, referring to their mayor, Alice Guo, elected out of nowhere in the 2022 elections, waking this small municipality of only 78,000 people.

Guo is at the center of a sensational investigation in the Senate over doubts about her citizenship, and her ties to shady Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in her municipality.

Locals of Bamban tuned in and watched the two Senate hearings. Most residents Rappler spoke with said they felt uncomfortable watching their mayor answer with “I don’t know, your honor.”

Banner, Text, Machine
YOUR HONOR. Residents in Bamban also put up signages along the streets and outside their homes to show their support for their mayor, Alice Guo. Joann Manabat/Rappler

“They were asking her too many things about her personal life, back and forth. We got annoyed. We couldn’t even finish it (Senate hearing). But we won’t budge, whether they criticize her, lambast her, or grill her, we don’t mind,” one more resident said in Kapampangan.

Others have put up banners in front of their houses and in public areas to show support for their beloved mayor.

As Guo rose to local power, a 36-structure facility did too in a seven-hectare property in Barangay Anupul, one of the four largest barangays in Bamban.

The compound is owned by Baofu Land Development Incorporated, a realty estate company that Guo and four others incorporated in May 2019. 

A FORTRESS. The seven-hectare Baofu compound is owned by a realty development company incorporated by Bamban Mayor Alice Guo and four others in 2019. Photo by Joann Manabat/Rappler

Guo was co-owner and major shareholder of at least 12 companies, according to business records obtained by Rappler. These 12 companies engage in various businesses – piggery, meat shop, slaughter house, hog farm supplements, food processing, car buy and sell, and garments, where she invested a total of P10.25 million.

She established her first business in 2010 at age 24. Her partners are a mix of Chinese nationals, Filipinos, and a couple of other foreigners that include criminals: Lin Baoying, convicted over one of Singapore’s largest money laundering cases, and her reported lover, Zhang Ruijin, who is also facing a similar case, and a fugitive, Zhiyang Huang.

As of 2022, Guo’s companies were reduced to 11 after she divested from Baofu before running for the mayorship of Bamban, claiming she wanted to avoid conflict of interest. “Before I ran for public office, I already divested,” Guo told ABS-CBN anchor Karen Davila.

Guo, though, remains co-owner of two other real estate development companies aside from Baofu. She is president of the Quezon City-based Con-Horq Summer Real Estate Group Incorporated, according to the company’s 2023 general information sheet. She is also a major shareholder of the RK-Q Land Development Corporation Incorporated, similarly based in Quezon City, according to an incorporation document.

How Guo rose in Bamban

Bamban, like many municipalities in Tarlac and all over the country, has been ruled by the same surnames through the years. Jose Antonio Feliciano maximized three terms as mayor of Bamban from 2013 to 2022. He jumped from the National Unity Party (2013) to the ruling Cojuangco party Nationalist People’s Coalition (2016 and 2019), before running as an independent representative of the 3rd District in 2022, an election he lost to the NPC’s bet.

As Feliciano was gunning for a seat at the House of Representatives in 2022, he endorsed Guo’s candidacy as mayor. Guo’s narrative was progressive – she would become the town’s first female mayor, running as an independent at that.

2022 CAMPAIGN. Mayor Alice Guo campaigns with her slate, the current Vice Mayor Leonardo Anunciacon to her left. Screenshot from Alice Guo’s Youtube page

It’s uncertain when and how Feliciano and Guo came to know each other. While Guo claims she was born in Tarlac City, the provincial capital that’s a few minutes’ drive from Bamban, and grew up in the town she eventually became a mayor of, she also registered residences in Marilao, Bulacan and Valenzuela City based on her company’s business records.

In 2019, she incorporated Baofu, the seven-hectare compound in Bamban, of which she declared she was a resident. That was more than enough to meet the one-year residency qualification to run for a local post.

In September 2020, former mayor Feliciano endorsed to the Sangguniang Bayan private citizen Guo’s application for a Letter of No Objection (LONO) for Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc. Hongsheng was the POGO raided in February 2023, which thrust Bamban and Guo into the national spotlight.

Under the rules of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), a LONO must be secured from the city or municipality before a gaming site could be established. That September 2020 resolution from Bamban’s Sangguniang Bayan identifies Guo as the “acting representative” of Hongsheng. Now under scrutiny, Guo claims she was applying for Hongsheng’s LONO only as the owner of the leasing compound, Baofu.

“I only introduced [Hongsheng] to the former mayor, afterwards I no longer noticed that I was put there as a representative, I only introduced them to the former mayor to apply for LONO,” Guo told Davila.

Letter of No Objection to Alice Guo/Hongsheng by Nami Buan on Scribd

Baofu’s 2022 general information sheet shows that Quezon City resident Jack Lopez Uy has taken over Guo’s 50% majority shares. It was also by 2022 that Guo won as mayor of Bamban, and the year that Bamban residents came to know her. A worker of a 7-11 in Bamban described Guo as “kind, helpful, and always giving free rides whenever there’s transport strike.”

“If there are events, occasions, funeral, she goes there and provides free tents and chairs,” the local worker said in Filipino, reserving judgment for their former mayor.

This is how hearts are won in Tarlac province – be the leader to bring Jollibee or 7-11 to forever be in the good graces of local residents.

‘What a shame if we lose her’

Guo defeated her opponent in 2022 mayorship by 468 votes; she got 16,503 votes compared to NPC’s bet “Kapitan” Joey Salting who got 16,035 votes. In a Facebook group supporting Salting’s candidacy for mayor in 2022, a video promoted Salting as “Filipino blooded” with comments throwing shade on Guo’s Chinese descent. “No imports!” said a supporter, “Bamban not for sale!” said another.

“Solid, 100% Filipino, pure Kapampangan” said another supporter. Tarlac province is divided into Kapampangan-speaking, and Ilocano-speaking municipalities, Bamban belonging to the former, being closer to Pampanga.

Salting is the barangay captain of Anupul, site of the Baofu compound where the raid took place. A resident born and raised in Barangay Anupul, whom Rappler talked to this month, remembers Salting being gracious to Guo now. “They are tight, I remember before Christmas , Kap said in a speech ‘who wouldn’t want to be mayor, but if the mayor is this kind, we don’t want to go against her,'” said the resident in Filipino.

Guo’s vice mayor, former Bamban mayor Leonardo “Ding” Anunciacion whom she ran with in the same slate, was quoted by the Inquirer as saying there was no basis to suspend the mayor. The interior department, acting after the Senate investigation, has preventively suspended Guo and stripped her of powers over the police force.

“I can’t be sure if the mayor is Filipino. I hope she is. If she’s not, then that’s difficult. If not, what a shame to lose her,” said the resident in Filipino.

Guo is credited by Tarlaqueños for bringing progress to Bamban. While the massive all-white compound Baofu was visible to them, what they didn’t know about and see was a Vietnamese who worked inside that fortress and who managed a daring escape.

The rescue led to a raid that revealed what was hidden in the fortress: hundreds of trafficked workers, cash, and evidence of a large-scale scamming operation.

RAID. Workers discovered when PAOCC raided the Baofu compound. Photo by Joann Manabat/Rappler

– (To be concluded)/Rappler.com

NEXT: Part 2 | Tracing the evidence: The gov’t raid that exposed Mayor Alice Guo’s link to POGOs

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Face, Happy, Head


Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.