Rescued POGO worker tags 'very powerful' backer in gov't

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A Taiwanese woman rescued from illegal POGO operations says her Chinese employers claim to have a "very powerful" backer in government whom they named as "Michael Yang."

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12) — A Taiwanese woman rescued from illegal offshore gaming operations revealed abuses in the industry, adding that these companies evade arrest due to a "very powerful" backer in government.

Lai Yu-Cian or "Ivy", 23, shared her tell-all tale about working for a Chinese-owned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) company which was engaged in illegal activity. The Taiwanese national shared her story in tears, accompanied by Senator Risa Hontiveros before Senate reporters on Wednesday.

Lai said she went through abuse from her Chinese employer when she learned that she would not be doing the original work promised to her. She feared for her life and that of her family back home, adding that she was "treated like a slave" at work.

"There is a very powerful government [person] called Michael Yang. I heard that once or twice from my boss, saying they have a government person supporting their business," Lai said.

Hontiveros said her office has not yet verified the identity of the supposed protector of illegal POGO firms.

READ: Makati City indefinitely halts issuing business licenses and permits to POGO service providers

A man named Michael Yang once served as President Rodrigo Duterte's economic adviser until the end of 2018. That Yang, who owns the Davao City Los Amigos or DCLA shopping center, was tagged in the illegal drug trade by a former anti-narcotics cop. His name has been cleared by former Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde in March 2019.

Lai said she was freed through a rescue operation done by the National Bureau of Investigation, but could not head home to Taiwan as her employer kept her passport.

Teresita Ang See, head of Citizens' Action Against Crime, said a 24-year-old Chinese woman also came forward with her own story as a trafficked worker. She said the foreign national was promised work in the POGO industry but ended up engaging in cyber fraud, where she was instructed to read a script to entice customers — even Filipinos — to invest their money in an illegal scheme.

When the Chinese woman filed charges, See said someone came with a bag full of cash to make her drop the case, or else she and her family will be killed. "The policemen are in their pockets, the fiscals are in their pockets," See said.

"I reiterate the call to crackdown on illegal POGO businesses," Hontiveros added, saying that these whistleblower accounts will be factored in her committee's recommendations for the industry. Calls to suspend POGO operations in the country have been mounting amid reports of tax evasion, worker abuse, and increased prostitution to cater to industry employees, most of them Chinese nationals.

READ: Makati City indefinitely halts issuing business licenses and permits to POGO service providers

Sen. Joel Villanueva also suggested to stop POGO operations amid money laundering and other criminal activities. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation said there are over 118,000 POGO workers in the country, while data from the Department of Labor and Employment show there are 156,000 of them here.

Authorities are also left chasing over ₱27 billion worth of tax liabilities uncollected from the sector.

For his part, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that POGO workers in the country should adhere to the Philippine laws.

"What we do is before we issue an alien employment permit to these POGO workers, we should make sure that they are paying taxes," he told CNN Philippines' Newsroom.

He added, "We see to it that the work they will do here in the Philippines is something that cannot be done by Filipinos, "