TWO separate groups of foreign nationals were arrested for online gambling last year. They were charged, brought to court, and allowed to post bail. They could no longer be located.
This was, in summary, what happened to 14 Chinese nationals arrested for running an illegal online gambling den and to six South Korean nationals who were caught operating illegal online betting games.
The two judges handling their cases ordered in separate rulings last week the cancellation of the suspects’ bail, confiscation of the bond in favor of government, and an investigation into where the suspects are and if they could still be brought to court.
The Chinese nationals were in Cebu on tourist visas and were among those arrested when their gambling den in an upscale subdivision in Cebu City was raided last December. They opted to face the charges in court instead of undergo a preliminary investigation. They posted bond of P24,000 each for their temporary liberty with the promise to show up for trial. Judge Alexander Acosta, who is handling the case, ordered the Bureau of Immigration to confirm if indeed the suspects have left the country.
A separate case, this time involving South Korean nationals, is in a similar position.
Six of them failed to attend their arraignment last December after they posted a bond of P24,000 each for their temporary liberty. They were among those arrested when their online gambling operations inside a rented house in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City, was raided last September. With their failure to appear for arraignment, Judge James Stewart Ramon Himalaluan ordered last week they be arrested.
If it is true these suspects have fled the country, it would require time and hard work to seek them, bring them back and let them pay the consequences. What could happen is they hide and remain far from the reach of Philippine justice, and, to hell with those court cases.
Such a waste of energy and resources for the citizens who bravely reported these illegal operations to law enforcers, the police who conducted surveillance and raided the dens, prosecutors who prepared the charges and courts that were ready to hear their side and decide.
How do the police feel about going after these illegal operations, then finding no one could stand trial? How about the neighbors who risked their safety by complaining to police about activities in their communities?
The suspects’ being able to flee the country to evade criminal liability is a slap on the faces of those who worked toward bringing them to court.
This practice of foreign nationals using Cebu as their playground and a venue for quick money operations is bound to continue because, as these two separate incidents show, they can escape trial by fleeing the country. Unless some steps are taken.
Raise the amount of bond. Coordinate with the Immigration bureau to monitor these foreign nationals and stop them from leaving. Don’t accept bribes.