Gov’t agencies intensify efforts vs. POGO-related kidnapping cases

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — Five government agencies intensified their efforts amid reports of kidnappings involving Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO).

In an interagency meeting, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) committed to protect the welfare and safety of both Filipinos and foreign nationals who are working in the country.

“The information we received is that these alarming incidents of kidnapping came from the ranks of illegal operators,” PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco said. “While it will be a challenge to all participating agencies, the good thing is that we are receiving information as to where these illegal operations are located. With the help of everybody, we will be able to zero-in immediately.”

The PNP earlier said it is keeping an eye on kidnappings involving POGO as this could border on human trafficking.

"Sa ngayon, tinitingnan natin. This is bordering on human trafficking, not more on the kidnapping because they are being detained against their will," PNP Spokesperson PCol Jean Fajardo said in a public briefing.

"So ito ngayon ang direksyon ng ating pag-iimbestiga dito sa sunud-sunod na insidente relating sa POGO establishments," she also said.

[Translation: We are now looking into it as this is bordering on human trafficking and not more on kidnapping because they are being detained against their will. This is the direction of the investigation on the incidents relating to POGO establishments.]

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs earlier in the day held a hearing on the issue, where cases, including a video showing a man being stabbed multiple times, were presented.

Factors behind POGO

According to the PNP spokesperson, one of the factors that could have contributed to the increase in kidnapping incidents involving POGO workers is the ease with which companies arrive and set up operations in the country.

"Ang nakikita nating isang factor diyan ay yung mabilis silang nakakapunta dito sa ating nire-recruit yung kanilang kapwa foreign nationals magtrabaho dito," Fajardo said. "Subalit pagdating dito ang nangyayari nga ay they are being held against their will -- pinapagtrabaho sila at yung iba ay hindi alam na sa POGO ang kanilang magiging trabaho."

[Translation: One factor we see is how easily they come to the country and then recruit other foreign nationals to work here. But once they arrive, they are held against their will and made to work with some of them not knowing it would be in POGOs.]

Fajardo also said that problems start when the workers indicate they want to leave their jobs -- they are asked to pay for the cost of their plane tickets as well as board and lodging.

She added they are ready to cooperate with the Senate investigation and provide correct data as well as assure lawmakers that the PNP is doing everything in accordance with the law to address the alleged kidnapping cases.

They will also look at those providing protection for POGOs to see whether any abuses are being committed, Fajardo added.