Alice Guo

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

Bonz Magsambol, Joann Manabat

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

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

A SPY? Mayor Alice Leal Guo answers questions from senators during the continuation of the public hearing on the raided Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators facility in Bamban, Tarlac, on May 22, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Documents obtained by Rappler link Mayor Alice Guo to illegal POGO operations in Tarlac. We track the recent milestones of ongoing investigations.

Second of 2 parts
READ: Part 1 | Bamban, Tarlac: Shaken by a raided fortress and wakened by Alice Guo

On February 25, 2024, Vietnamese Nguyen Minh Duc was able to mount a daring escape from the Baofu compound of Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated. Baofu is the biggest Philippine offshore gaming operation (POGO) compound in Bamban, Tarlac.

The 33-year-old Vietnamese nicknamed Danny jumped from a gate behind the dormitory area early morning of February 25. He threatened suicide if the security guards of Baofu didn’t allow him to flee. CCTV footage showed that in an attempt to bring him back to the Baofu compound, a guard pursued Danny up to the nearby house that extended him help. The Vietnamese bore neck and torso bruises, indicating physical assault.

Informed sources told Rappler that there were seven security guards who ran after Danny.

At the house where Danny found refuge, a source told Rappler that some police officers subsequently visited him to sign an “affidavit of desistance” stating that he “decided to leave Zun Yuan Technology” because of his “own personal reason and [that he] wanted to be brought back to Vietnam” via a booked flight to his home country. 

The police officers found out about Danny through the Baofu security guards who ran after him.

“I have no reason to file any complaint to any person or individual here in the Philippines,” the affidavit, which Danny was supposed to sign, also indicated.

On February 28, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) received another tip from a Malaysian named Dylan. He was held at the Baofu compound when his Chinese friend, who used to work for Zun Yuan, left him.

The following day, March 1, PAOCC also received a request from the Malaysian government seeking assistance in the rescue of its citizens who had fallen victim to the POGO operators.

The cases of Danny and Dylan pushed PAOCC to conduct a raid in the Baofu compound on March 13. Operatives were backed by a search warrant issued for human trafficking violations and serious illegal detention. 

The day before, on March 12, a briefing about plans for the raid was held at the Camp General Servillano Aquino of the Northern Luzon Command in Tarlac. PAOCC, together with the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), scheduled the operation at the break of dawn. However, by late night of March 12, reports were already received saying some foreigners had started to leave the Baofu compound.

This led authorities to act on the raid immediately at around midnight of March 13. Initial reports showed that plans could have been leaked to some of the POGO workers and managers inside the Baofu compound, signaling the need to escape. 

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

A hot pursuit operation at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga followed, while the raid continued at the Baofu compound. PAOCC sought assistance from the Clark Development Corporation’s Traffic Management Section of its Public Safety Division.

PAOCC operatives were initially looking for the trafficked victims who were reportedly seen at a villa in Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino inside Clark. Instead, 17 Chinese were caught inside a white van along  M.A. Roxas Highway. They were later discovered to be suspected managers of Zun Yuan. 

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

Back at the Baofu compound, a total of 678 workers – 383 Filipinos, 218 Chinese, 55 Vietnamese, 16 Malaysians, 2 Rwandans, 2 Indonesians, 1 Taiwanese, and 1 Kyrgyz – were accounted for by authorities.

Hundreds of smart phones stacked in metal rods were discovered at the barracks area including numerous sim cards that were suspected to be among scam paraphernalia. Work stations were also filled with dozens of smart phones and notebooks with Chinese characters. 

“We found a lot of iPhones and Android phones, USBs and other digital evidence that are subject to forensic examination. We will ask the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) if they can expedite these to digital forensics to deepen our evidence on Zun Yuan, its incorporators, and the people who are running it,” PAOCC spokesperson Winston Casio said in Filipino. 

Casio said all digital evidence will undergo forensic examination by the PNP-ACG.

On April 8 and 11, authorities secured permission to break open the 27 vaults found at the Baofu compound – located just right behind the municipal hall.

In suspicious coincidences, local operators of grinders, a vital tool in breaking vaults, were all gone to allegedly attend a seminar. All angle grinders also went missing. As if these weren’t suspicious enough, power and water lines were also cut off.

The high heat index added an extra layer of challenge to the already daunting task of breaking the vaults open, forcing authorities to use Acetylene to break all of them open. They were found to contain P7.32 million in cash, assorted foreign passports, Philippine government IDs issued to foreigners, smart phones, flash drives, seed phrases, vehicle insurance and registration documents, handcuffs, and a retractable metal baton.

The documents found in the administrative office of the POGO compound pointed to the controversial mayor of Bamban, Tarlac: Alice Guo. 

Guo has been the subject of Senate hearings on her supposed involvement in illegal POGO operations in her province. Her citizenship and consequently her eligibility to hold local office is also being investigated.

A Securities and Exchange Commission document of Baofu Land and Development Inc. indicated Guo as a major shareholder even as she said she had already sold her shares before running for mayor in 2022. Likewise, a June 2022 statement of account from a housekeeping agency, Aresum Trading and Manpower Services, was also addressed to Guo. 

An electric bill amounting to P15.1 million was also billed to Guo, covering the period September 2023 to February 2024. 

During the raid at the Baofu compound, operatives discovered that one of the 38 vehicles parked inside is owned by her – a Ford Expedition EL, 2019 model, with a registered address of Brgy. Virgen delos Remedios in Bamban, Tarlac. 

But the vehicle under the mayor’s name is just the tip of the iceberg. Guo claimed she is a “simple person” despite living a luxurious lifestyle. At least 16 vehicles were found to be under her name, 12 of which are in the records of the Land Transportation Office, including the Ford Expedition. She also owns different properties in the province, based on Senator Risa Hontiveros’ presentation on May 22. 

Three Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) of Guo were presented during the Senate hearing last May 22 as of the following dates:

  • June 30, 2022 – P178.1 million
  • July 1, 2022 – P36 million
  • December 2023 – P177.5 million

She told the Senate committee there were errors in her SALN entries without much elaboration. A SALN form that public officials like Guo subscribe and swear to when they submit it, however, states, among others: “I hereby certify that these are true and correct statements of my assets, liabilities, and net worth, business interests and financial connections…”

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

At the same May 22 Senate hearing, Guo also initially denied that she knew a certain Nancy Gamo, who was the representative of the raided POGO company Zun Yuan.

“Hindi ko po siya kilala (I don’t know her), Your Honor,” Guo said, when asked about her relationship with Gamo.

Unconvinced, Hontiveros said that Guo was lying. The senator disclosed that Gamo was linked to a number of businesses under Guo’s name. This constituted a conflict of interest because as mayor, Guo was also the one approving permits for her own businesses. Hontiveros said that this could be a violation of the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

A teleserye

The Senate investigation has kept Filipinos glued to developments in Guo’s case. The second time she faced the chamber on May 22 left more questions than answers because of irregularities and inconsistencies in her testimonies. Her citizenship as a Filipino is also being questioned as documents suggest that her real biological mother is Lin Wen Yi, a Chinese national. 

The Bamban mayor claims that she is a Filipino, because her mother, “Amelia Leal,” is Filipino – as indicated in the Guo siblings’ birth records. However, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there’s a possibility that Amelia does not exist at all, as she does not have any birth, marriage, or death certificate in their records.

The nationality of the real mother of Guo is a crucial piece of her background because her vaunted Filipino citizenship hinges on her claim that her mother is Filipino. Article 4 of the Philippine Constitution states that “those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines” are considered Filipino citizens.

The case of Mayor Alice Guo proves how murky the POGO industry is. On May 21, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian filed a bill seeking to outlaw POGOs. He filed Senate Bill No. 2689 which also seeks to repeal the taxability of POGOs provided by Republic Act No. 11590, the “only law that acknowledges and legitimizes POGO operations in the Philippines.”

Then-president Rodrigo Duterte signed RA No. 11590 into law in September 2021. Duterte leaned close to China and often cited the economic benefits of allowing POGOs in the country.

At the House committee level, lawmakers passed on February 12, a bill banning POGOs in the country. Meanwhile, senators are divided on the issue because of its possible impact on the economy.

The Senate committee on women led by Hontiveros is set to hold an executive session on Guo’s case, where hacking of government websites and espionage will be discussed. Will this be the last session to pin down the Bamban mayor? Or will spectators see yet another plot twist in her story? –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.