MANILA (UPDATE) -- A Taiwanese woman surfaced in the Senate on Wednesday seeking help from the Taiwan mission in Manila as she claimed she was trafficked into working for an offshore gaming firm allegedly backed by a "very powerful" government official.
Lai Yu Cian narrated her story before reporters in the Senate, accompanied by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who is investigating alleged abuses in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs), an industry dominated by Chinese operators.
"They want me to work for 24 hours, treating me like a slave... I already told them that I wanna go home, I wanna go back to Taiwan but they forced me to work for them. They told me that they have a protector behind them, which are government people," Lai, who refused to conceal her identity, told reporters.
She identified her employers' "very powerful" protector as one Michael Yang.
"I heard about once or twice when my supervisor got mad at me, they mention Michael Yang... He didn't explain to me. He just shouts that at me," she said.
Hontiveros said her office has not verified if the Michael Yang mentioned by the Taiwanese woman is President Rodrigo Duterte's former economic adviser, also named Michael Yang.
"Right now our main concern is the humanitarian aspect. We haven't gone to the checking of identities," the senator said.
Lai said she arrived in the country as a tourist last Oct. 1 and was offered a job as an administration personnel in a POGO firm.
"I did not know that it was an illegal business here. I know nothing. The only thing I know is I wanna have a job," she said, adding her Chinese employers took her passport.
On days she would refuse to work, Lai said her managers threatened to grope her and mock her in front of a crowd.
"My boss threatened me and abused me mentally and physically," she said.
"In my company, there are also Chinese nationals. My boss tells them that if anyone goes to NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), their families in China will be in danger," she said.
Lai was among 30 east Asians who were rescued in Mandaluyong last Feb. 3. Four Chinese nationals were arrested and charged with illegal detention.
'NOT AN ISOLATED CASE'
Lai's predicament is "not an isolated case" as the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) has monitored similar trafficking schemes in other POGO firms, the organization's chairperson Teresita Ang See said.
A 24-year-old Chinese national named "Ming" sought the organization's help after she filed a case against her employers for running a cyber fraud business in the guise of a POGO firm.
"She was given a script on how to defraud people... They are given a script on how to entice people to invest and she revealed to me that there are already Filipinos, not just Chinese, but Filipinos who have been victimized by this kind of cyber fraud operation," Ang See said.
After Ming was rescued, she filed a case against her Chinese employers but there was an alleged attempt to bribe her to drop the charges, she said.
The owner of the POGO firm purportedly sent an emissary to try to settle with Ming with about P1 million in cash. The girl refused to accept it.
"When she (Ming) refused the money, the emissary said, 'Oh easy, I have 5 times this amount to buy off the prosecutors, to buy off the judge, to buy off all policemen,'" Ang See told reporters.
Ming's case was "just dropped" before it reached the Department of Justice, Ang See said.
CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL POGOS
Hontiveros urged regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after illegitimate POGOs that have been trafficking foreign workers into the Philippines.
"Maraming krimen ang nakatali sa POGO: illegal recruitment, illegal detention, at sexual harassment. Kailangang matigil na ang mga ito," she said.
(Many crimes are tied to POGOs: illegal recruitment, illegal detention and sexual harassment. This has to stop.)
Last month, the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality found that prostitution dens employing Chinese women and Filipina teens have been set up in the country to cater to POGO workers.
Senate Committee on Labor and Employment chair Sen. Joel Villanueva earlier recommended the suspension of POGOs in the Philippines after a separate inquiry found that the industry has yet to pay P50 billion in taxes to the government.