Police: Luxury hotels, condos raided as POGO sex dens

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The National Bureau of Investigation raids several fancy hotels and condominiums in southern Metro Manila for reported prostitution catering to foreigners in the offshore gaming industry.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — Several luxury hotels in Pasay City were among locations raided by the National Bureau of Investigation for suspected prostitution activities involving offshore gaming workers, mostly Chinese nationals.

NBI Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division chief Joel Tovera revealed on Monday that their units have conducted raid and rescue operations for trafficked women in locations like Okada Manila and Midas Hotel, both located near Entertainment City.

Other properties include Eurotel Hotel, St. Giles Makati Hotel, Red Planet Hotel, as well as KTV bars and a condotel in Las Piñas, Tovera told the Senate. A longer list has been submitted to the panel, which included Avida Towers Asten condominium in Makati and Go Hotels in Baclaran, he said. These two hotels have denied knowing that such activities occur in their properties, he added.

Tovera said authorities rescued trafficked women during the operations, but he did not specify where.

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

The Philippine National Police also said that one of the raids resulted in the discovery of a telecommunication fraud staged in a rented room.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, held a hearing into supposed prostitution and sexual trafficking of women to cater to workers in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGOs.

Tovera said hotel management would usually deny knowing that such illegal operations existed, but would suddenly turn cooperative once rooms are opened.

"We are of the opinion that they have the knowledge because they have all the means, all the time to check what's going on," Tovera said, adding that some prostitution operations occupy an entire floor or two in some hotels.

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

The NBI official added that authorities would usually get the tip from barangay officials or security guards assigned to these buildings. Among the telltale signs that the property is being used as a sex den include the constant entry and exit of foreign nationals, who are often brought there as a group aboard a van. He described it as a "wet market," as foot traffic is always heavy.

To avoid suspicion, Tuviera said pimps would now resort to sending photos of trafficked women on online messaging services to let a patron choose, and would then be told to go to a hotel room where the lady will be waiting.

In a statement sent Wednesday, Red Planet Hotels said a police operation in one of its properties was carried out "peacefully" with the cooperation of management. The hotel said authorities had an entrapment operation in its branch in Amorsolo, Makati around 12:50 a.m. on January 21, which led to the arrest of a man and two ladies — a Vietnamese and a Chinese national. 

"Red Planet Hotel does not allow prostitution or any nature of illicit activities in any of our hotels, and is not in any way involved in human trafficking and prostitution," the company said.

Okada Manila said separately that it "consistently cooperates with NBI" during police operations. "We shall keep on doing all necessary measures while working closely with the authorities to ensure that Okada Manila remains a safe space," the hotel said in a statement.

Real estate firms have reported a surge in rentals or purchases of condominium units especially near the Bay area as housing for foreign POGO workers, driving up property prices there.

READ: POGOs now occupy a tenth of office spaces in Metro Manila

The Senate body has been conducting inquiries regarding reports of increased sexual trafficking due to the influx of POGO workers, as earlier stated by the NBI. Hontiveros previously said they could recommend a stop to POGO operations in the country due to increased crimes.

Lawyer Lorna Kapunan, an advocate of women's rights, recommended changes in the country's anti-human trafficking laws to allow sanctions on hotels and property rentals used as sex dens. She also suggested creating special courts that would specifically tackle human trafficking cases so as not to congest regular courts further.

CNN Philippines is trying to get the comment of hotels and properties mentioned during the hearing.