Chinese POGO workers can now order prostitutes online, Senate panel reveals

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Chinese POGO workers have resorted to online schemes to hire Filipinas and foreign women for sex, a Senate panel reveals.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — Chinese workers in the offshore gaming industry have resorted to online schemes to hire Filipina and foreign women for sex, a Senate investigation revealed.

To veer away from prostitution dens, Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed reports that pimps now use mobile chat apps to peddle trafficked women to Chinese nationals working in the Philippines. 

"'Yung mga babae parang ino-order lang sa app ng mga Chinese members ng group na ito — parang GrabFood, may menu, may presyo, then darating na lang sa hotel o condo mo," Hontiveros said during the hearing on Tuesday.

[Translation: Women are treated like online food orders by these Chinese men on this chat group. It's like GrabFood — there's a menu and price, then the woman simply arrives at your hotel or condominium unit.]

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Screenshots recovered by Hontiveros' office revealed "packages" offered to clients, which depend on the nationality of the sex worker and the length of time she would spend visiting the client. These sex workers — who may be Chinese, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, or Filipina — would then be sent to the hotel room or condominium unit of the patron.

Translated excerpts of these online offers sent via Telegram and WeChat peg a "fastfood" arrangement at ₱3,000, the cheapest rate for a 40-minute "service." The price rises as the sexual acts become more intimate, and if the sex worker will be hired all night.

The offers also come with photos of the trafficked women to help the patrons choose.

Hontiveros also presented the testimony of "Carina," a 15-year-old sex worker who had been rescued from these virtual prostitution dens last year. She said the woman who hired her, named Jane, would exclusively assign her to Chinese clients.

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"Carina" said she was hired as a massage therapist, but was later on told that she had to offer sex to her clients. She made roughly ₱3,000 to ₱7,000 per transaction, with half turned over to her employer.

POGO ban eyed

Hontiveros said these confirmed reports would bolster calls to ban Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) in the country.

"Based on experience, we only experienced this kind of activities when POGO was created. A lot of Chinese employees of POGOs are the ultimate clients of these prostitution dens," Vicente De Guzman III, deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation, said during the hearing.

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An official from the Bureau of Immigration said separately that the foreign men caught during sex den raids are all POGO employees. He added that foreign women rescued from these raids have no working visas or do not hold their passports as these were confiscated by their handlers.

The senator said the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality will consider recommending the suspension of POGO operations in the country. Gaming regulators have announced in August 2019 that it will not accept any new POGO companies looking to set up shop in the Philippines, as the government cracks down on unpaid taxes from existing players.

Hontiveros added that the Senate body will weigh the "economic benefit" against the social costs of allowing POGOs to operate here.

Tighter watch

Authorities said they will need more leeway to curb this new scheme for prostitution.

Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Villar proposed to ease the anti-wiretapping law and authorize mobile network providers to notify police if they spot messages and exchanges related to prostitution, such as sharing photos of naked women.

The Philippine National Police also called on hotels and similar lodging institutions to notify law enforcement if they notice irregular activities and suspected sex dens within their premises.

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Hontiveros said a second hearing will be scheduled to discuss these issues further.