MANILA — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to stop operations against Philippine offshore gaming operators after receiving reports of “huli-dap” or arrest and extortion activities.
“I told the NBI to stop activities against POGOs… The NBI was not ordinanced to raise money out of illegal activities. In Tagalog… 'Hindi ho itinatag ang National Bureau of Investigation upang gamitin lamang sa panghuhuli-dap ng mga dayuhan o kaya ng mga negosyante,'” Remulla said during a speech before members of the Rotary Club of Manila on Thursday.
Remulla did not say when he arrived at the decision or if he had signed a written directive to the NBI to formalize the order.
He just said during his speech that he received a call Thursday morning from a private man of Chinese descent complaining that he had been victimized by “huli-dap.”
Explaining his latest order to reporters, Remulla said he has received a lot of complaints about supposed huli-dap operations of the NBI.
“Maraming nangyayaring ganyan. Marami ng reports. So pinatigil na nila ang operation on POGOs (There are a lot of similar incidents happening. Many have reported. So they requested that POGOs stop their operations). I asked OIC Director [Medardo] De Lemos to stop everybody from operating on POGOs because we are getting a very bad operation on the matter,” he said.
The justice chief said it is best for the NBI to stay out of the problems in the POGO industry.
“They kidnap each other. In the end, they will sue each other at the DOJ and in the end, they’ll just settle with each other. So we are just wasting our time. Na-iinvolve lang kami sa mga intramurals na nangyayari sa kanila (We were just being dragged into the intramurals) so we have to stop it,” he explained.
“We will only act if there is really a police matter that is necessary for us to police or for the NBI to work on pero wag na muna kasi nakakasama (but in the meantime we will not do it because it may worsen the situation),” he added.
Remulla said he has yet to receive information if there were high-ranking officials involved in the alleged “huli-dap” operations.
“Hindi ko pa alam 'yan (I am not aware of that). I haven’t gotten that far. But alam ko lang, marami nag-ooperate (But what I know is many operate) on the POGOs and it’s really alarming, it has to stop. It has to stop,” he said.
Some lawmakers have called for the removal of POGOs in the country amid allegations linking the industry to rising criminality.
POGOs are online gambling companies that operate in the Philippines but which serve customers from outside the country.
A big majority of POGO workers were Chinese, some of whom were alleged to have entered into the country illegally through the controversial “Pastillas scam.”
Once a thriving industry in the Philippines, POGO operations took a hit during the pandemic when lockdowns were imposed.
But in May 2020, the Philippines agreed to allow POGOs to partially resume operations after classifying them as part of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.
The resumption of POGO operations amid a lockdown was met with criticisms, due in part to unpaid taxes, prompting regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation to vow to be “very strict” in enforcing conditions for reopening.
Malacañang also had to defend the reopening.
In 2019, the opening of a 32-hectare POGO complex in Cavite in what was once known as the Island Cove resort sparked concerns about a “creeping” Chinese invasion since it was expected to house between 20,000 and 50,000 Chinese workers.
The complex was reportedly put up by a wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessman who bought the resort from the Remulla clan.
Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla vowed to ensure work permits are in order for the thousands of Chinese who were expected to flock “POGO Island.”