LGUs in the Philippines

Hontiveros, Gatchalian urge DILG to suspend Bamban mayor

Joann Manabat

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Hontiveros, Gatchalian urge DILG to suspend Bamban mayor

OCULAR. Senators Risa Hontiveros and Sherwin Gatchalian inspect the raided Baofu compound in Bamban, Tarlac on April 25, 2024.

Joann Manabat/Rappler

The two senators inspect the premises of Zun Yuan Technology, a POGO in Tarlac raided last month by a team led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission

TARLAC, Philippines – Senators Risa Hontiveros and Sherwin Gatchalian, on Wednesday, April 24, urged the Department of the Interior Local Government (DILG) to preventively suspend Mayor Alice Guo due to her alleged links to Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated, a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) allegedly engaged in criminal activities.

Hontiveros, Gatchalian urge DILG to suspend Bamban mayor

The two senators inspected the POGO’s premises at the Baofu Compound in Bamban, Tarlac, which was raided last month by a team led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC).

Hontiveros said other public officials involved in the POGO should also be under preventive suspension as the investigation is ongoing. Documents and other pieces of evidence point to Guo and other officials’ involvement in the operation of the POGO facility which has been implicated in various criminal activities.

“Hiniling ko yun sa DILG na ilagay sa preventive suspension. Hindi lang si mayor, may ilan pang pinangalanan sa mga documents na nakita natin kanina sa public briefing. Dahil habang lumalabas yung findings ng PAOCC eh mga seryoso at mabibigat na tanong ang sasagutin nina mayor,” Hontiveros said.

(I asked the DILG to put them under preventive suspension. Not only the mayor, there are others named in the documents we saw earlier in the public briefing. As the findings of PAOCC unfold, there are serious and heavy questions they must answer.)

“The mayor, napakalaki ng impluwensiya niya sa isang lugar lalo na ngayon may ongoing investigation. Preventive suspension ang pinakamainam para hindi maimpluwensiyahan ang investigation. Maganda rin yan para sa kanya dahil hindi na siya maa-accuse of influence. Gusto natin maging maayos ang pagiimbestiga ng PAOCC,” Gatchalian added.

(The mayor has great influence in her place especially now that there is an ongoing investigation. Preventive suspension is the best way so she will not be able to influence the investigation. That would also be great for her so she won’t be accused of influence. We want PAOCC to investigate properly.)

PAOCC spokesperson Winston Casio revealed to both senators dubious coincidences when they tried to break open the vaults on the first day, such as local welders allegedly attending a seminar while all angle grinders were missing. Power and water lines were also cut.

Acetylene was used as substitute to break open all 27 vaults where over P7 million in cash were confiscated by the authorities.

Hontiveros, Gatchalian urge DILG to suspend Bamban mayor

Zun Yuan is by far the biggest among the four POGOs authorities have raided since May 2023. Other challenges PAOCC identified include getting records, as well as poor coordination in the area due to POGOs’ networks and connections.

Hontiveros said their ocular inspection was a continuing discovery and realization of POGOs’ links to organized crime. The two senators acknowledged possible bribery to protect POGOs’ illegal activities, and reiterated their call to ban all POGOs in the country.

“Itong mga POGOs mga negosyante. Marunong silang gumawa ng connection, maglagay, manuhol. In fact, yun ang kanilang galing para maproteksyunan ang sarili nila. Yan ang kinatatakutan ko na kung meron na silang mga tao na nasa bulsa nila, saan pa tayo tatakbo? Kahit anong sumbong natin, kahit anong raid, kung yung mga taong dapat tulungan ang PAOCC ay hawak na sa bulsa ng mga POGO, tapos na tayo,” Gatchalian said.

(These POGOs are businessmen. They know how to establish connections and bribe. In fact, they’re skilled in protecting themselves. That’s what I fear, that if they already have people in their pockets, where else can we run to? No matter the accusation, no matter the raid, if the people who are supposed to help the PAOCC are already in their pockets, we are done.)

In January 2008, then-senator Miriam Defensor Santiago introduced the Anti-Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Law) of 2008 to penalize racketeers and criminal enterprises from infiltrating, controlling or influencing Philippine commerce. A RICO has not been passed into law in the country.

In the United States, its RICO was enacted in 1970.

Casio said recipients of bribe money are also part of organized crime as beneficiaries of illegal activities. PAOCC is currently framing a bill similar to the RICO Law to help combat organized crimes.

Rappler reached out to Guo’s staff for comment on what the two senators said, but they said she was unavailable.

Guo, in her statement sent to Rappler last April 8, denied the allegations linking her to the illegal acts of Zun Yuan.

“I welcome any investigation carried out by the proper authorities at the proper forum. I am ready to answer all accusations and show that these allegations are false and unjust, should I be given the chance to do so at the proper forum,” she said. – Rappler.com

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