MANILA –Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Sunday urged the government to suspend the visa upon arrival (VUA) policy for Chinese nationals, which reportedly led to a rise in cases of foreign kidnapping and prostitution linked to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry.
“Napatotohanan na natin sa Senado na maraming Chinese POGO workers ang customers ng mga prostituted and trafficked women, at ngayon, kinukumpirma na ng PNP (Philippine National Police) na POGO-related din ang mga kaso ng kidnapping. This is all no thanks to the VUA scheme,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
(We proved at the Senate that many Chinese POGO workers are customers of prostituted and trafficked women. Now, the PNP has confirmed that there are kidnapping cases related to the POGO. This is all no thanks to the VUA scheme.)
“Suspended pa lang ang VUA ngayon dahil sa COVID-19, pero dapat na itong i-terminate,” she added.
(The VUA is suspended right now because of COVID-19 but it should be terminated.)
The VUA program, which government suspended earlier this year to curb the spread of COVID-19, allowed Chinese tourists to enter the Philippines for 30 days or less without applying for visas at Philippine consulates in their places of origin.
Hontiveros cited data from the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group, which arrested 34 suspects of POGO-related kidnapping last year and 31 this year. PNP data showed that there was no casino-related kidnapping in 2016, a year before the VUA program began.
The lawmaker also called the VUA system a “dubious project” after Immigration officials profited from it through the “pastillas scam.”
Under the scheme, Chinese nationals could enter the Philippines as tourists and later work for POGO hubs. They allegedly pay immigration personnel and Chinese and Filipino travel agencies P10,000 in grease money.
Hontiveros added it would be safer if Chinese visitors entered the country by applying for visas through channels monitored by the Department of Foreign Affairs.