By Ellson Quismorio
A House leader is pushing for an inquiry on certain local chief executives, police officials, and state prosecutors from Cebu for their alleged hand in the release of 182 foreigners arrested for working in an illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) firm in Lapu-Lapu City last September 7.
Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said the operation led by Police Col. Lito Engkig Patay, chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region VII, against a certain Yonzheng Wu of POGO firm Xin Juang Jen Ching Ltd., Inc., was covered by a search warrant issued by Judge Soliver Peras, 1st Vice Executive Judge, 7th Judicial Region, of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Cebu.
Barbers said the illegal POGO firm, which occupies the 2nd to 12th floors of Tower One Plaza Magellan, Mactan Newtown, Barangay Mactan, Lapu-Lapu City, was allegedly engaged in illegal acts of offering and taking bets from local and foreign clients playing e-games. These included playing cards, dice, and billiards, among others.
“The reports said the Chinese POGO officials first offered P150 million just to settle the case. But Col. Patay’s group rejected it. The offer was raised to P500 million but it was also rejected. This must also be probed to determine if there is any truth to it,” Barbers, chairman of the House Dangerous Drugs Committee, said.
The CIDG raiding team, which brought with them the appropriate warrants to arrest and seize all pieces of evidence including computers of the subject POGO, brought all the evidence and nabbed the suspects for documentation in their office on the same day.
The suspects were supposed to undergo inquest three days later before Assistant State Prosecutors Antonio Abaniero and Shelamar Saligan-Abadia, both of the local prosecutors’ office.
“The tabloid report indicated that because of pressures from higher headquarters of the PNP (Philippine National Police) and higher government officials in Region VII, the state prosecutors were prompted to ‘release for further investigation’ all the 182 arrested Chinese POGO workers,” Barbers said.
“We need to have a legislative inquiry on what really transpired in this case. We need to know where are these 182 arrested Chinese POGO workers now? Have they eventually been charged in court? Where they deported or allowed to leave or have they stayed in Cebu?” the solon asked.
Barbers said it is also important for the CIDG team to keep all the recovered evidence, particularly the computers and all data therein, for the purpose of examination by the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) to determine if the POGO firm also offered and took bets from local clients, as claimed by the raiding team.
He also said it was apparently clear from the reports that the surveillance, intelligence operations, and the subsequent raid conducted by Col. Patay was properly conducted because, aside from the search warrant, all the proceedings during the raid was video-recorded and documented.
“I have already called for an investigation on the alleged ‘colorum’ POGOs operating in our country and the possible enactment of laws, rules, and regulations to prevent these mushrooming online gaming firms from being used as a laundering tool by drug syndicates and other crime groups,” he said.
“In the case of the Lapu-Lapu City POGO raid, a legislative probe is in order for us to be able to study what transpired thereat, and obtain relevant and useful information…that we could incorporate in the would-be POGO or online gaming laws,” he added.