Marcos urged to ban online gambling that has turned Philippines into ‘playground for criminal activities’

Philippine offshore gaming operators began operating in the Philippines in Nov 2016 after getting the go-ahead from former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda

The Straits Times


Computer terminals inside a Philippine offshore gaming operator's office, following a police raid in Las Pinas City, Philippines, on June 27. PHOTO: AFP

July 4, 2023

MANILA – Two Filipino senators have asked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to ban online gambling firms in the Philippines, following last week’s raid of a licensed offshore gaming operator suspected to be involved in a large-scale human trafficking scheme.

At least four Singaporeans were among the nearly 3,000 Filipino and foreign nationals rescued by local police in the compound of Xinchuang Network Technology Inc in Las Pinas City, south of the capital Manila, on June 27.

Xinchuang is a licensed Philippine offshore gaming operator (Pogo), but the authorities suspect its online gambling operations are a front for alleged cryptocurrency and love scams that exploit human trafficking victims. Xinchuang has denied this allegation.

“Marcos should ban Pogos now. Not only have Pogos made our country a playground for their criminal activities, they also owe our government money in billions of unpaid taxes,” Senator Risa Hontiveros told The Straits Times.

Since late 2022, senators Hontiveros and Win Gatchalian have been leading a Senate probe into cryptocurrency scam hubs in South-east Asian countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar that have been duping migrant Filipino workers to join the scams.

The senators later found that such operations have reached the Philippines as well.

In May, they learnt that Sun Valley Hub, a registered Pogo, was running a cryptocurrency scam hub at Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, a province north of Manila. A free port zone official later admitted this was a “failure of intelligence”.

Victims were initially recruited through social media to work either as call centre agents or Pogo workers. Once they arrived at their country of destination, they were allegedly forced by a “Chinese mafia” to work for its cryptocurrency scheme, said Ms Hontiveros.

They were trained to create fake social media accounts using photos stolen from young women who appear smart and successful. The victims were then ordered to develop an online romantic relationship with their male targets on various social media platforms.

Once the targets fell in love with their online persona, the victims would convince the targets to invest in cryptocurrency.

Both senators Hontiveros and Gatchalian found parallels in the operations of Xinchuang and Sun Valley Hub.

Mr Gatchalian also raised concerns that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, which issues licences for Pogos, was unaware of the illegal activities despite its mandate to regularly conduct inspections.

“Worse, Xinchuang Network Technology Inc had already been involved in criminal activities in the past. This proves that Pogos are clearly a scourge in our society and we must stop them now,” he said in a statement.

Human trafficking and cybercrime charges were filed last Friday against five Chinese nationals working for Xinchuang, whose lawyer denied that the company is embroiled in illicit activities.

“How can there be human trafficking when they are working legally and they’re very well-documented? We deny those charges. That is not true,” lawyer Christian Vargas, legal counsel of Xinchuang, told reporters.

The 1,190 foreign nationals rescued during the raid remain inside Xinchuang’s compound while the police investigate their involvement in the cryptocurrency scam. Foreigners who are not tagged as suspects will be repatriated.

Singapore Ambassador to Manila Constance See said the Singaporeans remain under police custody, but the embassy is closely cooperating with local authorities. No other details about the Singaporeans have been released for now.

Pogos began operating in the Philippines in November 2016 after getting the go-ahead from former president Rodrigo Duterte.

In 2019, China urged the Philippines to halt all online gambling operations, linking the industry to crimes such as money laundering, kidnapping and extortion.

But the Philippine government continues to issue licences to Pogos, which contributed around 53.1 billion pesos (S$1.3 billion) to the economy in 2022.

scroll to top