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Gov’t agents raid POGO ‘hub’ in Angeles City

May 5, 2023 Alfred P. Dalizon 1127 views

919 foreigners, 129 Pinoys rescued

GOVERNMENT agents on Thursday evening stormed a suspected Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator or POGO “hub” inside Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and rescued a total of 1,048 employees, 919 of them foreigners said to be used by a syndicate to engage in different online scams victimizing targets here and abroad.

Raided at around 7:30 p.m. Thursday (May 4) on the strength of search warrants for violation of Republic Act (RA) 10364 or the “Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012” in relation to Section 6 of RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was the alleged POGO firm located along Jose Abad Santos Street in Mabalacat City in Pampanga, a report to Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, General Benjamin C. Acorda Jr. said.

Of the 919 foreigners “rescued” during the operation, 307 were Chinese nationals; one from Hongkong; 143 from Indonesia; 25 from Malaysia; seven from Myanmar; 40 from Nepal; two from Taiwan; five from Thailand; and 389 from Vietnam.

The remaining 129 are Filipinos from Metro Manila and other provinces.

The rescued workers were found to be engaged in different Internet fraud or deception which makes use of the Internet. They include the so-called “Love or Romance Scam,” “Boiler Room,” and phishing, wherein scammers lure their targets into providing them with personal information such as credit card and mobile phone numbers and other sensitive information they can use to make purchases or steal one’s identity.

Officers from the PNP, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), the Bureau of Immigration (BI), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) were involved in the massive operation, which saw lawmen searching six buildings in the area.

“This is a whole-of-government approach to address cases of trafficking in persons in the country,” said PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) director Brigadier General Sydney S. Hernia.

Recovered during the raids conducted on the strength of seven search warrants and warrant to search, seize, and examine computer data issued by Judge Hermenegildo Dumlao of the Malolos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 81 in Bulacan were assorted computer sets, mobile phones, and other gadgets.

“We have rescued over 1,000 victims of human trafficking and are questioning some of their managers as part of our ongoing investigation to determine the people behind these illegal activities,” said Hernia.

The PAOCC, headed by Executive Director Gilbert DC Cruz provided full support to the PNP-ACG, the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) under Brig. Gen. Rudolph B. Dimas, the PNP Intelligence Group (IG) headed by Colonel Romeo J. Macapaz, and the Mabalacat Municipal Police Station (MPS) during the conduct of the searches and the rescue of the human trafficking victims.

“We have discovered that over 1,000 victims were forced to work for a cyber-fraudulent industry. This is a case of human trafficking, and we are still processing everything,” said Hernia.

The rescued foreign nationals will have to remain in their offices while their respective embassies are processing their papers to allow them to return to their countries of origin.

A “whole-of-government approach” is currently being used by the Marcos administration to fight trafficking in persons and online frauds despite many challenges and difficulties.

In the “Boiler Room” scam, an outbound call center sells questionable investments by telephone.

In the “Romance Scam,” a syndicate goes after targets by creating fake profiles on legitimate Internet dating services. Once they have found a target, a member of the syndicate who often claims to be working overseas will express strong emotions to her/him in a relatively short period of time, mostly appealing to their victim’s romantic or compassionate side to ask money, gifts or bank/credit card details.