DOJ urges victims of ‘stolen identity’ in POGO mess to come forward, file suits

Jairo Bolledo

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DOJ urges victims of ‘stolen identity’ in POGO mess to come forward, file suits

STOLEN IDENTITY. Merle Joy Manalo Castro attends the Senate hearing on the owners, incorporators and operations of raided POGOs in Bamban, Tarlac and Porac, Pampanga, on June 26, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Merlie Joy Castro, a vendor-turned-BPO worker and listed as one of the owners of an illegal POGO, earlier denied her involvement in the business and said she has no capacity to establish a corporation

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has called on alleged victims of identity theft in the Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) mess to come forward and file complaints against suspected perpetrators.

Mga respondents na nagsabi na nadawit lang sila, nananawagan ako na kailangan kayong magpakita dito. Kailangan kayo sumagot. Dahil kung hindi kayo sumagot, baka makasuhan kayo…Hindi sa Senado ang proper venue upang mahain ‘yong depensa ‘nyo na ‘yon, kundi dito sa Department of Justice,” DOJ Undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty, in-charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, told reporters on Friday, July 5.

(For the respondents who said they were falsely implicated, I am calling on you to appear before the DOJ. Because if you will not respond, you can be indicted. The Senate is not the proper venue to give your defense, but here in the DOJ.)

Philippine authorities recently filed a qualified trafficking complaint against Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo and 13 others for their alleged involvement in Hongsheng Gaming Technology, an illegal POGO where some people were allegedly trafficked. However, it was later revealed that some of the owners listed in the POGO and sued for trafficking were alleged victims of identity theft.

During a Senate hearing on June 26, Merlie Joy Castro of Concepcion, Tarlac said she is a vendor-turned-BPO worker, who has never known offshore gaming. Castro said she did not sign any documents and has no capacity to build a corporation. Castro said her signature on the Securities and Exchange Commission records was also forged.

Aside from Castro, Hongsheng has three other Filipino co-owners. Castro said she knows the other three women as market vendors in Concepcion town.

“…At the same time, nanawagan kami sa kanila na tumulong sa kaso. Kung puwede, maghahain ng sariling reklamo na finalsify, na ginamit ‘yung kanilang identity (At the same time, we are also appealing to them to coordinate with the investigation. And if they can, they can file their own complaint for falsification because their identities were stolen),” Ty added.

The DOJ is now in the process of preliminary investigation to determine if there will be sufficient basis to bring the qualified trafficking complaint to court for trial. Ty’s call on the victims of identity theft is important because they have to file their counter-affidavits with prosecutors to explain and defend themselves.

If they fail to file the affidavit, the prosecutors can just proceed with indicting them and bringing the case to trial if they find enough evidence.

Complaint vs Guo

Tingnan ninyo ang ebidensiya against Mayor Alice Guo, papel. Bill ng kuryente, letter of no objection, articles of incorporation. Itong mga dokumentong ito, hindi enough to commit the crime of human trafficking. There must be overt act,” Alex Avisado, Guo’s counsel, told reporters.

(Look at the evidence against Mayor Alice Guo, it’s all paper. An electricity bill, letter of no objection, articles of incorporation. These documents, these are not enough to commit the crime of human trafficking. There must be an overt act.)

Guo did not personally appear during Friday’s preliminary investigation, but Ty said Guo’s counsels represented her. The mayor’s camp was given 15 days to file their counter-affidavit or defense. The DOJ official said that the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which lodged the complaint, will also file additional affidavits.

Aside from her alleged ties with the illegal POGO, Guo is also in hot water due to her citizenship. Her nationality was first questioned during Senate hearings, where opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros raised the question of whether Guo was an “asset” planted by China to infiltrate local politics. The mayor also claimed in one of the public hearings that she couldn’t remember basic details about her life.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) recently confirmed that the fingerprints of Guo and Guo Hua Ping had matched. Guo, the mayor, is suspected of actually being Guo Hua Ping. This is evidence against the local official, which could be used to prove that she may be Chinese and not Filipino.

Aside from this, the Philippine Statistics Authority said it had moved to cancel Guo’s certificate of live birth. If approved, Guo would lose her Filipino citizenship. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as the government’s primary legal counsel, is set to file a petition to cancel Guo’s birth certificate.

The OSG also has a separate probe to determine if there’s enough reason to file a quo warranto petition against Guo that may remove her from her mayoralty post. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.