Hontiveros calls for suspension of POGO operations pending assessment

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 03:35 PM | Updated as of Feb 27 2020 03:53 PM

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MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday called for a suspension of offshore gaming operations in the country following the rise in illegal activities involving the industry.

"Is it worth it? With this invasion, these unpaid taxes, all those crimes following in the wake of POGO mostly victimizing our women and children, I think we should... suspend all POGO operations while we are really accounting for ano ba talaga ang ganansiya sa atin (what our benefits are) and what are the costs on the other side of the balance sheet so that we can really make an evidence-based and strategic decision," Hontiveros said on ANC's Headstart.

Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality earlier revealed the alleged "pastillas" scheme at the Bureau of Immigration at a Senate inquiry where illegal Chinese workers come to the Philippines as tourists and pay P10,000 as grease money so they could enter even without the proper work visas.

The lawmaker said the scheme also gave rise to trafficking and prostitution of not just Filipino women and children but also of foreigners.

"In the next hearing, tatawagin namin lahat ng mga akusadong opisyal na sangkot sa pastillas operation- past and present officials--kailangang papanagutin natin sila," Hontiveros said.

(In the next hearing, we will summon all officials accused of involvement in the pastillas operation- past and present officials- we have to hold them accountable.) 

Hontiveros added that the focus of the committee is not just on employees who only get a small amount from the alleged bribery scheme.

"We have to trace where did the bigger money go. 'Yan ang naging dahilan ng pagpasok ng mga [That's how they brought in] illegal Chinese POGO workers disguised as tourists, d'yan idinaan 'yung mga (that's the same way they brought in) trafficked women from outside prostituted here together with Filipina women and children. 'Yan ang naging daan para ma-corrupt ang isang dapat na border guards ng ating bansa, 'yung Bureau of Immigration (that's how they corrupted our supposed border guards, the Bureau of Immigration)," she said.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier ordered the relief of all BI personnel allegedly involved in the bribery scheme, but spared its head, Commissioner Jaime Morente, saying he “loves” the former Davao police chief.

Meanwhile, Hontiveros is also thinking of cancelling the visa upon arrival privilege granted Chinese nationals. The visa upon arrival grant was earlier suspended over the spread of the coronavirus, which originated from China. 

"I would really welcome the BI simply to cancel the use of the VUA anymore," she said.