DOJ chief unleashes NBI to go after illegal POGO workers

JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he has lifted his order preventing the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from conducting operations involving Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

In an ambush interview following his meeting with Chinese embassy officials led by its Charge D’affaires Ad Interim Zhou Zhyong, Remulla said teams in the NBI have been reactivated to join other law enforcement agencies in addressing illegal activities in the POGO industry.

“We’re already moving now. We stopped the NBI’s operation then because nobody was filing cases. Before they would conduct rescue operations but we found out there were no reports, no cases filed when we arrived here,” Remulla said.

“So we had to stop it. Now that this has come to light, the NBI is there already. We already have mobilized teams from the NBI to start moving on this one,” he added.

‘Human dignity’

The coalition of the country’s biggest labor groups are calling for the fair treatment of hundreds of “irregular” foreign nationals (FN), who were employed by POGO and facing deportation.

The Nagkaisa labor coalition expressed concern over the said government plan, which it noted may end up as a “humanitarian crisis” if not properly managed.

Nagkaisa Chairman Sonny Matula reminded authorities to ensure that the rights of the affected FNs are still respected in line with Migration for Employment Convention (ILC 49), which was ratified by the country in 2009.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) also issued the same appeal, saying that some of the affected FNs could even be victims of human trafficking.

“We have seen the horrific treatment of illegal and undocumented OFWs, and how extremely vulnerable our Filipino workers were, and are, in distant countries to abuse and draconian treatment from governments that regarded our OFWs as mere commodities,” TUCP President Raymond C. Mendoza said.

“Let Filipinos now show the way on how foreign workers who may have themselves been victimized, or misled, and perhaps exploited, should be treated here: with respect for their human and labor rights,” he stressed.

In July 2022, Remulla ordered the NBI to take its hands off POGOs following reports that some of its agents have been using their operations to illegally obtain money.

He said the alleged illegal NBI operations had reached “alarming” levels.

Meanwhile, Remulla said he is hoping to facilitate the start of the deportation of at least 300 illegally staying POGO employees who are now in the custody of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) before the end of the month or first week of October.

The DOJ chief said the number is expected to increase once authorities have validated the identities of Chinese nationals working in POGOs who should be deported.

Remulla earlier said an estimated 40,000 Chinese nationals are expected to be deported back to China due to the cancellation of the licenses of around 175 POGO firms.

During his meeting with Chinese embassy officials, Remulla said they discussed the procedures and requirements for the deportation of overstaying Chinese POGO workers.

The Chinese delegation did not grant an interview with the media and left the DOJ immediately after the meeting.

Remulla reiterated that there were protocols that need to be observed between the requesting and accepting states, including health protocols since both countries are still battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

While waiting for the deportation to start, Remulla said the DOJ will follow protocols such as the conduct of RT-PCR tests for those who will be deported as required by Chinese airlines, and two for local airlines.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III earlier urged the BI to immediately deport the more than 40,000 allegedly overstaying POGO workers.

Pimentel said the BI should run after overstaying POGO workers amid reports that a number of them were involved in the recent kidnappings and disappearances of Chinese nationals.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, however, said he believed the number of undocumented or overstaying Chinese nationals in the country could go as high as 100,000, citing discrepancies in the records of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and the BI.