A rescued worker’s tale of torture in Porac POGO

Joann Manabat

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A rescued worker’s tale of torture in Porac POGO

DORMITORY. The dormitory area of the raided POGO in Porac, Pampanga

Joann Manabat/Rappler

Detained for over a month without a single peso in his pocket, Yu Zhou Jing found himself entangled in web of exploitation and cruelty

PAMPANGA, Philippines – The dark underbelly of Philippine offshore gaming operations has again come to light following the harrowing ordeal of Yu Zhou Jing, a 31-year-old Chinese national. His bruised body is a testament to the sinister reality behind one of the largest POGOs located in Porac, Pampanga.

Speaking through an interpreter, Yu shared his POGO experience in an exclusive interview with Rappler, en route to the Jose Lapid District Hospital also in Porac, after his rescue.

Yu has been in the Philippines for five years. He first worked at a POGO but he was “locked” there and only got out when his friend helped him. After his rescue, he did deliveries for his friend, who runs a restaurant in Cavite, and earned P70,000 to P80,000 every month from tips from fellow Chinese customers. 

Back in his home in Hubei province, he and his divorced father took care of his grandparents. When his grandparents died, Yu left China for the Philippines.

While he was with his friends at a five-star casino resort in Parañaque City, a fellow Chinese approached him and offered him a job at Lucky South 99 Outsourcing Incorporated. He did not know the man but he had seen him several times prior to that.

“He was told he can get 50,000 to 100,000 renminbi which is around P400,000 to P800,000 a month. He looked familiar and have seen him there before about five or six times,” the interpreter said.

A white van brought him to the Pampanga POGO site. Little did he know that his aspirations of earning more would turn into a nightmare. Detained for over a month without a single peso in his pocket, Yu found himself entangled in web of exploitation and cruelty.

Cost of freedom

Once he got into the POGO compound in Porac, a woman arrived and told him that he was no longer allowed to go leave unless he paid P500,000 as “compensation” for his freedom.

Yu was asked to read a document which detailed his job in a love scam. He said he did not want to work as a scammer, duping fellow Chinese. He wanted to leave but he had to pay the hefty “fee” first.

TOTURED. Yu shows his bruises. Joann Manabat/Rappler

Yu was tortured for wanting to leave Lucky South 99. “They always use a stick to pick him and also the electric baton. They beat them in the office in front of other staff in another building, not in the dormitory where he was found. One guy stepped on his arm, another stepped on his head to prevent him from moving,” the interpreter said, as narrated by Yu.

POGO personnel told him to contact his family back in China so they could send him money and he could finally leave the compound. But when he was forced to contact his family, the latter asked that he send money to them instead.

Yu found himself sharing a room with two more Chinese men who had been tortured as well. The other men were in worse condition as one had a broken leg. People would come in to check on the condition of the two other men but they were not brought to a clinic for medical attention. The two men were eventually moved out, leaving him by himself in the room.

Person, Light, Vandalism
LOCKED. Most doors of the buildings were locked with wires or handcuffs that prevented victims from fleeing the compound. Joann Manabat/Rappler
The rescue

On June 4, Yu saw his fellow POGO workers passing by his window. They were leaving the compound. There was also a power outage. The usually noisy compound fell silent. No one came to deliver his food ration of two buns and a bottle of water, so Yu had to drink tap water.

At the time, Yu suffered mental torture as he thought he would starve to death. He regretted ever stepping into the white van that brought him to Porac.

Hours later, at around 7 pm on June 4, the Presidential Anti-Organized Commission arrived in the compound as part of a “welfare check.” It was not until the following day, June 5, that PAOCC started its rescue operations in the Porac POGO. Two Chinese were rescued from the dorms.

Late afternoon of June 6, a PAOCC team started calling out around Lucky South 99, asking if anyone needed help. According to the PAOCC representative, lawyer Ernesto Tendero, Yu “dropped a rope from the window to get food so he could eat.”

WINDOW. Yu had a chance to take a peek of his fellow POGO workers by his window leaving the compound. Photo by Joann Manabat/Rappler.

Yu was finally rescued at around 10 pm. He had a medico-legal evaluation in Porac, and was brought to the Jose Lapid District Hospital the next day. He was later transfer to the Naskdake building, a raided POGO which has been turned into a temporary detention facility in Pasay City.

Yu’s rescue was “purely operational” and “not an implementation of any search,” Tendero said.

“Between property rights and right to life, the right to life is higher. He needs to be rescued immediately,” Tendero told Rappler in an interview on Friday, June 7.

FINALLY FREE. YuZhou (in blue shirt) was rescued by the PAOCC on Thursday night, June 6, 2024. Joann Manabat/Rappler
Waiting for a search warrant

A team led by PAOCC immediately served a search warrant against the officers and employees of Lucky South 99 based on a complaint of human trafficking which was issued by Judge Maria Belinda Rama of Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 14 on June 4.

Rama, however, issued another order to “set aside” the search warrant on the morning of June 5. Later in the day, she issued another order denying the search warrant, citing jurisdiction.

Tendero said they are still waiting for the issuance of a search warrant to continue their rescue operation. For now, they can only wait for signs of life to conduct rescues.

“We cannot enter the buildings, we still don’t have the search warrant. They [buildings] are all locked. Unless they ask for help, of course, like last night, then we must rescue them. But right now we can only shout using our megaphone, wait for anyone to respond or show any signs of life. We have our senses, we can use them for that in the meantime,” Tendero said.

The PAOCC team relied on their senses to rescue Yu, whose experience mirrors that of victims of human trafficking, serious illegal detention, and physical abuse being reported in several POGOs in the country. These incidents, as well as the national security threat posed by POGOs, have prompted lawmakers and various groups to seek a POGO ban in the country. – Rappler.com

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