[Closer Look] Homophobic frenzy diverts attention from POGO dangers

Inday Espina-Varona

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[Closer Look] Homophobic frenzy diverts attention from POGO dangers
Harry Roque’s endorsement of a visa application isn’t the issue. We’re all better served focusing on why POGOs have transformed into independent criminal kingdoms that subvert government bureaucracies.

Harry Roque, lawyer and spokesperson of former president Rodrigo Duterte, is in the news following the June 4 Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) raid on a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) in Porac, Pampanga. 

Probers sorting out documents at the 10-hectare complex occupied by Lucky South 99 discovered documents mentioning Roque

One, which lists officials of Lucky South 99, mentions him as “legal.” 

Another features his endorsement of a former executive assistant’s October 2023 visa application for Ukraine. Roque, then scheduled to join a peace process conference in that war-torn country, cited medical reasons to justify a travel companion. 

The news spawned a frenzy among Philippine social media users. 

Post after post has taunted Roque and his former assistant with speculation or outright accusations of clear homophobic bent. 

These predatory exercises have diverted attention from grave issues we need to dissect in the Lucky South 99 case, the latest in a long line of exposés linking POGOs to heinous crimes and security threats. 

They also display how Filipinos – including civil society movers, activists, even journalists – have forgotten harsh lessons barely three years after emerging from under the toxic cloud that was the Duterte government. 

Tattered rainbow flag

All of June, we’ve been posting images and messages to celebrate Pride. 

We’ve urged the passage of the anti-discrimination or Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) bill. We’ve called for an end to homophobia. 

And yet, here we are, splat full of the same muck we throw with glee at a perceived enemy. 

Yes, Roque was among the more odious members of Duterte’s Cabinet, more so because he once posed as a human rights defender and a person of integrity. He ended up spewing outrageous arguments and lies to justify his patron’s twisted policies and actions. 

But there is no excuse for sexism and homophobia. No excuse no matter the target, no matter who does it, no matter the cause that fuels the mud-slinging. 


Claiming the target deserves it is a slippery slope. 

Duterte and his minions crowed that Leila de Lima deserved the filth he threw at her. They said Leni Robredo asked for it. Activists, journalists, drug addicts, church leaders, rights defenders – insert any pet peeve – faced the same vitriol. 

The madness infected so many that we started treating each other the same way Duterte treated us. That madness gripped us, no matter the political colors we waved. 

We emerged battered and shaken at the end of Duterte’s term, seeking cleansing. We were confronted with a new government, ruled by the family that had helped bankroll the social media army that swept the Davao thug to power. 

And here we are.

I wade through the garbage and see it spreading both from the Marcos forces now battling their former allies, and those who once despaired at what everything these groups stood for. 

Take deep breaths. Let’s ask ourselves: 

Why is something so wrong when the “enemy” does it suddenly okay if we do it? 

Dire problems

We’re all better served focusing on why POGOs have transformed into virtual fortresses, independent criminal kingdoms that rake in profits of a magnitude to subvert government bureaucracies. 

Roque’s visa application endorsement is peanuts to the fact that Katherine or Cassie Ong, a representative of Whirlwind Corp, the client of his innocent legal practice, also transacted with the government on behalf of Lucky South 99

Roque’s endorsement of a visa application isn’t the issue. 

It’s WHY these documents were found in a complex serving alien hacking and scam syndicates (AHASS), the term now given to hundreds of supposedly disenfranchised POGOs that continue to operate with impunity on prime real estate across Luzon.

Roque says he worked with Ong only in October 2023. He claims the documents were in the complex because his travel companion may have lived there. 

Why would his former assistant live in a complex where POGO operations had already been ordered shut down in September 2022 after the discovery of more than 40 kidnapped Chinese? 

Any residential units in this complex were exclusively for the use of an AHASS with an internet fraud operation enforced via coercion and torture, and where human sex trafficking not only lured in victims but also kept their worker bees happy. 

Another puzzle is why the Porac local government did not yank Lucky South’s occupancy permits for its 46 buildings even after the raid. 

If we go by PAOCC statements, the folks in the 46 buildings controlled Lucky South 99 make the money launderers of Zun Yuan Technology Inc. in Bamban, Tarlac, seem like Boy Scouts. Both operations also worked together.

PAGCOR has claimed only those former POGOs that gave up their licenses have engaged in criminality. That’s not true. Raids by the PAOCC have found internet gaming licensees (the new term used to mask dirty laundry) in the heart of Metro Manila engaged in the same human trafficking, kidnapping, and torture. 

It takes an entire bureaucracy to allow POGOs – which Duterte coddled despite protests from China – morph into monstrous crime syndicates that match drug cartels in brutality and power. 

A million homophobic slurs are not going to make a dent on this crisis. – Rappler.com

Inday Espina-Varona is the former head of Regions at Rappler.

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