Rescue of 700 Trafficking Victims Spurs Probe into Philippine Police

Published: 01 November 2023

Mahjong Tiles

During the raid, a mahjong table was found with tiles scattered in the middle of the game. (Photo: Niels van Eck, Flickr, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

The Philippine Government has initiated an inquiry into its own police force following a significant operation targeting an online gaming firm that led to the rescue of over 700 victims of forced labor and human trafficking. Government officials believe it would not have been possible to operate such a business without the police's knowledge.

In a letter directed to the Philippine National Police Chief, Secretary of Government Benjamin Abalos Jr. expressed his concerns and said that the investigation will primarily focus on the Pasay City police chief and the local substation commander.

Abalos finds it highly improbable that the recently discovered major criminal activity could have gone unnoticed by the local substation commander. According to Philippine regulations, Abalos has recommended the dismissal of the police chief and all substation members pending the investigation, urging appropriate action.

The Philippine Overseas Gaming Operation (POGO) was conducted within a six-story building in Pasay City, operating under the name Smart Web Technology Corporation. According to the Philippine News Agency report, the building was equipped with a nine-room KTV area, a pharmacy with a physician and two patient beds, a restaurant, and a hotpot "shabu-shabu" area. Nine money vaults were also found on the premises.

During the operation, led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) and the Department of Justice last Friday, two young Chinese workers approached government agents, claiming they were held against their will and showing signs of torture on their bodies. Additionally, 731 workers, including seven Filipinos, were rescued.

The Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) stated that they would recommend revoking Smart Web Technology Corp.'s temporary license as an Internet Gaming License (IGL) operator due to their involvement in human trafficking. As a result, the building and other assets owned by the IGL may be frozen and potentially confiscated as illegal gains.

Data from the Philippine National Police revealed that 103 POGO-related crimes occurred from January 2017 to June 2023.