Morphing POGOs

Proliferating internet-based scam hubs, often suspiciously manned by human trafficking victims, recently set off alarms all over the Asia-Pacific region.
Morphing POGOs

It's disgusting how a suspected Chinese criminal syndicate was able to brazenly operate right under the noses of local authorities and police in a very public place in Pasay City.

For that fact alone, arresting, charging, and jailing these local government and police bums are the very least that must be done.

We certainly agree with shocked Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos that "it is highly improbable to think that an entire six-story building essentially dedicated to criminal activity… could somehow escape the notice of the local sub-station commander."

Who wouldn't be flabbergasted when the suspected six-story crime hub on the corner of busy F.B. Harrison and Williams Streets in cheek-by-jowl Pasay is a mere stone's throw away from Pasay Police Station 1?

And even more shocking is that the raid last week on the self-sustaining criminal site masquerading as an internet gambling hub uncovered a brothel, a torture room, an illicit clinic, and telltale proof of online crypto investment scams and human trafficking.

The raid led to the questioning and detention of 731 Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino employees of Smart Web Technology Corp.

As I write this, the authorities are apparently having difficulty determining who among the detained were the traffickers, the trafficked, and the tortured. 

Justice officials said they were trying to access seized computers, which they firmly believed had more to do with internet-based scams than plain old sanctioned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGO gambling.

They had good reason for their suspicions. Proliferating Internet-based scam hubs, often suspiciously manned by human trafficking victims, recently set off alarms all over the Asia-Pacific region.

Going by last week's raid, it seems the Philippines is becoming an attractive haven for cybercriminals taking advantage of the country's liberal internet gambling laws and lax regulatory measures on POGOs.

But even without POGOs morphing into scam hubs, shadowy POGOs have bared their criminal impulses, with kidnapping and human trafficking the commonly committed crimes.

According to police data, more than 4,000 POGO-linked kidnapping and human trafficking crimes were recorded in the first half of the year.

 Such blatant criminal impunities prompted gambling regulator PAGCOR to rebrand POGOs with the fancy name of Internet Gambling License operators.

However, trying to erase the criminal stigma attached to POGOs with a name change is laughably easier said than done.

PAGCOR found, for instance, that Smart Web Technology Corp. was practically the same POGO firm that had its gaming license revoked earlier.

Reports indicated that PAGCOR tried to physically investigate the premises of Smart Web Technology Corp., but PAGCOR inspectors were reportedly barred from entering the Pasay building.

The authorities are still trying to unravel the machinations behind a banned POGO firm being able to brazenly operate under a new business name and even get an IGL.

Nonetheless, the amazing ability to operate under different guises raises uncomfortable questions about the effectiveness of the government's regulatory and monitoring measures for POGOs.

Consequently, strident calls to thoroughly reevaluate and strengthen current regulatory and enforcement mechanisms are growing louder. 

However, robust monitoring and enforcement measures shouldn't be confined to Metro Manila.

Last Halloween, for example, authorities stopped 34 POGO workers from moving from Parañaque to Cebu.

Police speculated the attempted transfer indicated worried POGO operators were feeling the crackdown against them and were trying to escape the heat by transferring operations to the provinces.

If this is the case, provincial police and local governments better scramble now, and beef up their monitoring and enforcement of POGOs in their jurisdictions.

All these measures, however, are admittedly half-measures. Decent only if this cash-strapped government finds it can't forego billion-peso revenues from the POGO industry.

But this government inevitably must squarely face the question of the corruptive POGOs being worth all the trouble.

The Senate insists POGOs aren't worth the trouble and wants the immediate expulsion of all of them.

The Senate's call is gaining ground and looks increasingly like the common demand regarding POGOs.

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