DOJ flags rise of STDs in POGO community

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 03 2022 05:59 PM

Officials from various government agencies attend a Senate Inquiry on money laundering, crimes, and other illegal activities associated with the operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country on March 5, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
Officials from various government agencies attend a Senate Inquiry on money laundering, crimes, and other illegal activities associated with the operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country on March 5, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

DOJ acknowledges change in strategy due to cost, humanitarian grounds

MANILA — From kidnapping and human trafficking to murder, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is now flagging yet another issue linked to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) — the alleged spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among its employees.

“It’s really quite sad to say that ang DOJ nakakuha ng iba’t ibang reports tungkol dito sa pag-spread ng STDs and per our reports, we don’t know the full extent of it yet but in several reports that we’ve gotten sa DOJ, may mga cases na 15-20 sa isang POGO company ang nagkaroon ng STD,” DOJ spokesperson Mico Clavano told the media on Monday.

“And we just hope na itong operation natin na sa pag-deport or cancel ng visa we hope na matigil na itong spread ng STD and this is really part of the report that we’re asking from the NBI to determine the full extent of this,” he added.

While the DOJ previously noted sex trafficking as among the alleged crimes that take place in the POGO community, that the first time that it divulged reports of alleged rise of STD cases among POGO workers.

Clavano however did not provide additional details, except to assure the public the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are working on it.

“So we will not wait. Hindi natin aantayin na umabot pa ito sa ating mga kababayang Pilipino. We hope all the crimes and all the ill-effects nitong pag-stay ng mga Chinese national ay matigil na dito sa ating operation,” he said.

CHANGE IN STRATEGY

The DOJ on Sunday announced a change in strategy in dealing with Chinese POGO workers.

Instead of immediately deporting Chinese citizens formerly employed by POGOs who are now illegally staying in the Philippines, the DOJ and the Bureau of Immigration said a “more cost-efficient and humanitarian approach” would be to cancel 48,782 alien visas.

This will allow Chinese to voluntarily leave the Philippines within 59 days.

Summary deportation would only be resorted to if they refuse to leave within 59 days from the cancellation of their visas.

Clavano cited 2 reasons for the change of approach.

“Kung tayo, ang gobyerno mismo ang magdedeport ng mga Chinese national, mahal masyado. We will have to shoulder the flight, we have to shoulder the food and accommodation habang nandito pa sila sa bansa,” he said.

“Second, mas humanitarian sya. We’ll leave it up to the deportees to leave on their volition voluntarily para hindi na tayo mag-aaresto ng Chinese nationals. So those are the two reasons: one more economical and two it’s more humanitarian,” he added.

The Justice spokesperson explained that while a deported foreigner will immediately be blacklisted by the Immigration bureau, a foreigner with a cancelled visa who leaves the country within 59 days can still come back to work for another POGO company, for example.

“Mas humanitarian yung pag-cancel ng visa. Kasi ang effect lang nun, wala na silang basis na mag-stay pero hindi ibig sabihin na malalagay sila sa watchlist or blacklist ng BI,” he said.

“Within the month of October sana ma-cancel na lahat ng visas ng mga POGO employees that have been determined to…to have been hired by POGO companies whose licenses have been canceled,” he added.

The DOJ previously said it is eyeing to deport some 40,000 Chinese POGO workers after authorities shut down 175 POGOs by cancelling their licenses.

Despite the change in strategy, the DOJ said it will still proceed with deporting 372 foreigners already in BI custody after they were arrested by the Philippine National Police and the NBI in separate operations.

“341 of them ay Chinese nationals, yung 41 naman ibat ibang nationality: may Vietnamese, may Taiwanese dun sa 41,” he said.

“And right now we’re coordinating closely with the Chinese Embassy to make sure that we deport these Chinese nationals smoothly. Hindi naman siguro natin pwedeng i-deport all at once kaya magiging batch per batch po yan. That’s after the 59-day period and we’ll make sure na also that itong mga ginagawa nating operation natin ay hindi rin makaka-apekto sa economy natin,” he added.

POGO operations have been linked to a rise in crimes like kidnapping and murder in the Philippines prompting authorities to launch a crackdown on illegal POGO activities.