By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
A Taiwanese national was allegedly tricked and forced to work in a Philippine offshore gaming operation (POGO), with employers who supposedly claimed to have “very powerful protectors” from the government.
Twenty-three-year-old Lai Yu Cian, or “Ivy”, surfaced before media on Wednesday (Feb. 12) to share her ordeal in what appears to be a case of human trafficking in the country’s offshore gambling industry.
Lai went to the office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros to seek assistance after being rescued by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from her Chinese employers.
Hontiveros, chair of the committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, led the recent Senate hearing on prostitution rings that cater to workers in the POGO sector.
In the press briefing, Lai, despite being in tears, narrated her experience in the POGO company she was forced to work in.
She said she arrived in the Philippines with a tourist visa on October 1 last year, after being recruited online to work in an advertising company.
She initially worked for a Chinese-owned company in Makati only to be transferred a week later to a POGO firm in the same building. Her passport was confiscated and she was brought to a condominium in Mandaluyong.
The Taiwanese national said she insisted on getting her passport back as she was only allowed to stay in the country for 30 days but her employers threatened her.
“I already [told] them I want to go home. I want to go back to Taiwan, but they forced me to work for them,” Lai said.
“Every time my boss is mad, he [would] always shout in Chinese and say, ‘You’re now my staff, I already bought you from other boss.’ So they say I have to work for them. And my cellphone [has] to [be turned off for] 24 hours. They treat[ed] me like a slave,” she recalled.
In a statement issued to reporters later, the foreigner was said to be with 30 other fellow workers who were prevented from going home or reporting to authorities. She said they were told that “their family in China will be [in danger]” if they attempted to do so.
Lai said she also suffered physical and sexual abuse from her employers.
The Taiwanese national said her Chinese employers made mention at least twice that “they have a protector behind them who is government people.”
“So I think even if I run away, escape, they will still find me and kill me,” Ivy said.
She later on said that her bosses identified a certain “Michael Yang”, who they described as a “very powerful” person protecting their business.
“I don’t know who is he. My boss always say, he didn’t explain to me, just, sometimes he shout at me and in my memory, once or twice, I hear the name,” she said.
Hontiveros said she has not yet tried to verify if the person being referred to was the Davao-based businessman and former presidential economic adviser whom President Duterte cleared of illegal drug involvement.
She says is now focusing on helping Ivy fly back to Taiwan and obtain possible legal assistance for her case.
Operatives of the NBI Special Task Force reportedly rescued Lai from the POGO company last Feb. 3, after two Filipino brokers in their Mandaluyong condominium reported their situation.
Four Chinese individuals whom Lai identified as those who confiscated her passport and threatened her were arrested in the raid.
Authorities reportedly discovered that the arrested foreigners were found to have no authority to conduct any recruitment in the Philippines.
Anti-crime advocate Teresita Ang-See of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order said Lai’s plight is “not an isolated case,” disclosing that several foreign nationals working in POGOs have also asked their group for help.
One Chinese national, for instance, reported being employed by a POGO in Zambales to defraud people in investment schemes.
“It’s a POGO place but then more than that, there is a cyber fraud division where they are given a script on how to entice people to invest,” Ang-See narrated.
The Chinese national, she said, even bared that Filipinos also fall victims to such fraudulent activities.
When the Chinese was rescued by police and sought the help of the Department of Justice (DOJ), a representative of a POGO company “right there and there inside the DOJ,” attempted to bribe one victim with about P1 million “to drop the case, and if not she will be killed.”
“But because of the interpretation problem, because she (the victim) doesn’t speak English, the interpreter did not even tell the DOJ that when she refused the money, she (the representative) said ‘Oh easy, I have five times this amount to buy off the prosecutors, to buy off the judge, to buy off all policemen’,” Ang-See said in the briefing.
The Chinese national refused the offer and pursued the case against the POGO company.
Ang-See lauded the foreign victims for their courage.
“We said, your best weapon against these criminal syndicates is public opinion, public pressure, public assistance like the Senator’s office. We told her that the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order will be behind her all the way and we are offering extending the same assistance to Ivy,” she said.
Hontiveros, for her part, said the incidents call for an “immediate crackdown on fly-by-night POGOs.”
“Maraming krimen ang nakatali sa POGO: illegal recruitment, illegal detention, at sexual harassment. We can’t add more crimes being committed to the country. We need to stop these illegal POGO companies immediately,” she appealed.