PHILIPPINE National Police chief, General Debold M. Sinas, has cautioned operators of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGOs against hiding information from the police when it comes to criminal matters involving their workers specifically those being victimized by kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) gangs.
The top cop issued the warning after agents of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group headed by Brigadier Gen. Jonnel C. Estomo arrested three Chinese nationals for the kidnapping of a Vietnamese-Chinese in Angeles City in Pampanga two weeks ago.
“I am strongly urging POGO operators to closely coordinate with the PNP on security concerns and to refrain from handling these matters on their own,” Sinas said amid observations that POGO officials usually withhold information about kidnappings of their workers to police investigators particularly those from the PNP-AKG.
Estomo, in a report to Sinas, said a KFR victim, Vong Cam Lan, POGO employee, was rescued around 5:30 p.m. last Saturday inside Unit P Block-9 Lot 10A, Hanin Town Subdivision in Bgy. Pampang in Angeles City where he was held captive.
Operatives of the AKG Luzon Field Unit under Colonel Villaflor Bannawagan arrested three Chinese nationals who were with the victim in the residential unit. Through the aid of an interpreter, the suspects who were identified as Li Rouhan, Qiang Zhang and Jing Li were apprised of their rights under Philippine Laws.
However, upon investigation, the suspects refused to cooperate and repeatedly declined to give their names, even claiming their passports were taken from them by their company.
Estomo said their investigation showed the victim was abducted around 1 p.m. last November 18 at the Jazz Mall Residences near Tower A Entrance in Makati City by a group of Chinese nationals who fetched him.
The suspects then demanded ransom money from the victim’s wife, Vong Cam Lan, prompting her to file a complaint before the PNP-AKG. Estomo said they learned the kidnappers asked the victim’s wife to give them P161,800 for his immediate release.
After being rescued with the help of information provided to the PNP-AKG by his wife, the victim positively identified the three arrested suspects as among the men who seized him.
Estomo said they have discovered that the suspects are among at least 10 Chinese nationals believed to be looking for targets who are mostly POGO workers.
The three suspects are now being held at the PNP-AKG lock-up facility in Camp Crame and are facing criminal charges before the Department of Justice, Estomo said.
Over the past few years, the government has been saddled by problems regarding the presence of Chinese-led KFR gangs going after their compatriots in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.
This prompted the PNP-AKG and the DoJ to join hands with their different law enforcement counterparts to arrest growing incidents of casino-related kidnappings and later, cases of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals who ended up being kidnapped after becoming disgruntled with their work in Metro Manila POGO companies.
Department of Justice Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony D. Fadullon called for a “whole-of-nation” approach to stop the growing incidents of casino-related kidnappings during a historic anti-kidnapping summit organized by PNP-AKG last year.
“The attention of the local authorities isbeing diverted to casino-related kidnappings which is just a coercive scheme of loan sharks in collecting the borrowed money by the bettor-victims, from real kidnapping cases wherein the families of the victims and the victims themselves are more than willing to push through a case against the kidnappers and consequently have them punished in accordance with the law,” said Fadullon, also chairman of the Anti-Kidnapping Task Force.
The PNP-AKG said in 2017, they recorded 52 casino-related kidnapping cases, the same year when the operation of POGOs started in the country. That year also saw the arrest of 119 Chinese kidnappers.
In 2017, the DoJ through the National Prosecution Service resolved four casino-related KFR complaints. Two others were dismissed while the other two are ongoing trial.
In 2018, two out of seven of the casino-related KFR complaints filed were dismissed while one is pending for resolution. Four cases are already ongoing trial. This year, there were 18 complaints filed, five of which were dismissed while four are pending for resolution. Nine other cases are ongoing trial.
Fadullon said casino-related kidnapping is the effect of POGOs and legally operating casinos in the country. He said it must be noted that victims of loan shark kidnappers are mostly bettors at VIP tables of big casinos in the Philippines.
Estomo said they have uncovered another modus operandi of POGO companies hiring Chinese or Taiwanese employees and confiscating their passports to prevent disgruntled employees from returning to Mainland China or Taiwan.
Some of these companies also gained notoriety for hiring ‘foreign goons’ to abduct their fellowmen in order to force the victims to pay huge amount of money they supposedly owe or have stolen while at work.
Since 2018, the PNP-AKG has investigated dozens of similar cases specially those which occurred in the southern part of Metro Manila. Over the past two years, PNP-AKG agents have arrested many Chinese nationals who were accused of abducting, torturing and demanding ransom from relatives of their victims which include Chinese, Taiwanese and even Vietnamese nationals.