Parañaque mayor wants Chinese POGO workers deported, on tight watch for other illegal POGO operations

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A total of 44 Chinese POGO employees were arrested in a police operation last Friday night at a house along Barangay Tambo, Naia Road amid the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 26) — Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez has requested the Bureau of Immigration to deport the Chinese nationals who were recently apprehended for working in an illegal Philippine offshore gaming operation in the city amid the Luzon-wide lockdown.

This comes after 44 Chinese POGO employees were arrested in a police operation last Friday night at a house along Barangay Tambo, Naia Road following reports of suspected individuals roaming around the area after curfew hours.

Nine Filipinos were also arrested during the operation. According to Olivarez, some of those who were caught in the operation even had handguns with them.

"Noong Friday night, nagkaroon kami ng operation doon at nakita po namin na nag-o-operate illegally 'yung isang POGO operator na pinaverify din po namin na wala pong lisensya from Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) at lalong-lalo na alam naman natin sa guidelines ng IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) ay pinatigil ang ating POGO operations during the enhanced community quarantine," Olivarez told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Weekend on Sunday.

[Translation: Last Friday night, we had a police operation in the area and found out that a POGO operator has been operating illegally, and we were able to verify that it did not have any license from Pagcor, more so, that it cannot operate based on the IATF guidelines suspending POGO operations during the enhanced community quarantine.]

"Mas mahirap pa rito, may mga baril na nakuha sa kanila na mga .45 calibre at 9mm...kaya po tayo ay nagrequest sa Bureau of Immigration na ito pong mga Chinese na ito ay ma-deport ho natin immediately dito po sa ating bansa," Olivarez added.

[Translation: What makes this worse, we even retrieved from them .45 calibre and 9mm pistol...that's why we requested the Bureau of Immigration to have these Chinese nationals deported from our country.]

The mayor added that the incident has prompted the city government to be on the lookout for other POGOs — either licensed or not — which could still be operating in the city despite the imposed lockdown.

"Lalo po kaming magiging aware sa mga nag-o-operate ng iligal dito sa atin...hindi po pwedeng mag-operate and POGO sa Parañaque either may license siya sa Pagcor [o wala]. Iyan po ay maliwanag na sinuspend ng ating Pagcor at IATF," Olivarez added.

[Translation: We will be more aware of those who will be operating illegally in the city...POGOs cannot operate in Parañaque whether they have a license from Pagcor or none. Operations were clearly suspended by Pagcor and IATF.]

Bureau of Immigration Spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the agency is already verifying the individual records of the Chinese nationals prior to filing deportation cases against them.

"We are also interested to find out if they have other cohorts or if similar establishments are operating in the area. We will be coordinating with the Philippine National Police to gather more intelligence information about this," Sandoval said in a statement.

"We will not take this lightly. Foreign nationals that are in the country must abide by our laws lest face criminal and immigration sanctions," she added.

Meanwhile, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said in a statement that deportation proceedings may be initiated against the Chinese nationals to ensure if they have violated immigration laws. However, if a criminal case has been filed against them and they were proven guilty, they still need to serve the sentence before the deportation can push through.

Lawmakers have earlier opposed calls to allow POGOs to resume operations after the enhanced community quarantine, noting that they are not under any essential industry needed to battle the overcome the coronavirus outbreak, and that they even failed to settle their taxes which were supposed to give the Philippine government revenues.

READ: Lawmakers oppose reopening POGOs after lockdown, say it would send conflicting messages on gov't priority

The Anti-Money Laundering Council previously said POGOs generate a mere ₱7 billion in net inflows. This money is retained as a huge chunk of the ₱30-billion capital sent to the country that is subsequently pulled back out.

However, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee noted that this only translates to a "negligible" 0.04 percent of the domestic economy, and that the social ills that POGOs bring to the country are not worth the regulation fees that the government also earns from.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said that POGOs had to be closed, following President Rodrigo Duterte's order to close down all non-essential establishments to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and all other "high-risk" provinces in Luzon until May 15.

CNN Philippines' Glee Jalea, Melissa Lopez, and Paolo Barcelon contributed to this report.