NSC: Pogos not yet threat to national security

PAMPANGA. In this file photo, DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos (left) leads the closure of a Pogo firm in Angeles City, which allegedly operates sans permit.
PAMPANGA. In this file photo, DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos (left) leads the closure of a Pogo firm in Angeles City, which allegedly operates sans permit.File Photo courtesy of Pagcor

THE National Security Council (NSC) said that it does not yet consider Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (Pogo) a threat to national security.

In a statement on Thursday, June 13, 2024, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, who is also a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said they are closely watching the ongoing Senate investigation into Pogo operations, while the agency is also doing its own assessment of its implication to the national security.

He noted that issues related to illegal Pogos, such as illegal activities and regulatory violations, can be addressed within existing government regulations and law enforcement mechanisms, and do not necessitate AFP intervention reserved for declared national security threats like the Abu Sayyaf or communist terrorist groups.

“Currently, we do not view Pogos per se as a national security threat at the level that would necessitate the direct involvement of the defense forces,” he said.

“At the moment, it is a national concern that law enforcement and regulatory agencies can address. Our lawmakers may also need to look into the pros and cons of allowing its continued operations,” he added.

Año said the government should not tolerate illegal Pogos, which are recently subject to police operations over involvement in illegal activities such as scams, human trafficking, prostitution and kidnapping, among others.

He vowed to continue to work closely with relevant government agencies and stakeholders to gather comprehensive data and insights, providing a balanced and informed perspective in relation to Pogo, noting there were some that were law-abiding.

“This approach will help ensure that any policy regarding the future of Pogos and other related operations in the Philippines are made with a clear understanding of their implications to national security,” said Año.

“We appreciate the vigilance and dedication of our public officials and stakeholders in bringing this issue to the forefront as it brings awareness to our people and promotes a security mindset. The NSC remains committed to protecting the interests and safety of the Filipino people, and will rigorously examine all aspects of Pogo operations to ensure they do not pose a threat to national security,” he added.

'Threat'

Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier urged the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to declare Pogo as a “threat” to national security.

Hontiveros heads the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, which is currently conducting an inquiry on the raided Pogo in Bamban, Tarlac in March 2024, the Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated (ZYTI), which resulted in the rescue of 800 employees including around 500 foreigners, among which were 427 Chinese nationals.

She made the call following an executive session with representatives from the PNP, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Office of the Solicitor General, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Council, Department of Foreign Affairs, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Bureau of Immigration, and National Bureau of Investigation, where she was convinced that there are strong grounds to declare Pogos as a national security threat.

The investigation on ZYTI has cast a shadow on Bamban Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo, who is currently under preventive suspension along with two other local officials. They face charges of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service filed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Hontiveros earlier said Guo, whose nationality is still in question, could be a “Chinese spy.”

At the height of the probe against ZYTI, the PAOCC, along with the police, raided another illegal Pogo hub located in 46 buildings across a 10-hectare land in Porac, Pampanga. The operation yielded hundreds of workers, mostly Chinese nationals, including kidnap victims who were discovered with numerous torture marks on various parts of their bodies.

What is more concerning is the discovery of Chinese military uniforms, which has led some to express concern that the country may have already been infiltrated by Chinese forces amid its continued claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In a public briefing, PAOCC Spokesperson Winston John Casio said the Chinese military uniforms are authentic but old according to experts within the intelligence community.

He said there are two possibilities regarding the Chinese military uniforms: either veteran Chinese military personnel are working or are owners of the POGO hub, or the uniforms were part of someone's militaria collection.

The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, reassured that the public has nothing to worry about. (TPM/SunStar Philippines)

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