The Philippines have recently had a love-hate relationship with Philippines Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), with no shortage of calls for a complete shutdown of the gaming segment.
The industry’s chances of survival continue to diminish as China puts pressure on the Philippine government, and it does not help that rumours of POGO-related kidnappings continue to crop up. Last week’s new accident, following an abduction earlier this month, resulted in a street fight between the perpetrators and the police that killed two suspects and a police officer with a hole in his foot.
On June 1, police were able to rescue two kidnapped individuals, while arresting two suspects at the same time. That led to an investigation that uncovered other people’s involvement, and came to a head last Thursday.
Police officers with the National Police-Anti-Kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG) and law enforcement from Angeles City were able to track the van down and apparently got into a shootout with the two suspects when making their approach. The police had better aim and killed both individuals, but after being shot in the foot, one police officer had to make a trip to the hospital.
Gambling-related kidnapping occurs in many cases for settling outstanding debts. However, a number of abductions that were tied to POGOs stem from a sinister ruse to attract Chinese nationals to the Philippines with the gambling operator making false promises of jobs. They ‘re kidnapped once in the country, and held for ransom.
According to Police Major Ronaldo Lumactod Jr who said: “They were hired to work for a POGO but there was deceit. They were not given the jobs as casino dealers as promised. As the victims thought they were deceived, they resisted. They were then ordered to pay a ransom through their families in China.”
The number of casino-related kidnappings in the Philippines has been rising almost continuously in the last three years. There were 17 and 16 cases reported to police in 2017 and 2018, respectively. That number more than doubled last year, to 38. Because of the coronavirus, the first quarter of 2020 may find a drop, but there will also be an increase in the number of people seeking work once travel restrictions are lifted which could make more people vulnerable.
The amount of money the kidnappers usually try varies, but will always be in the high five-figure range. A similar case last November saw two Chinese nationals rescued by police after they were forced to pay at least $73,000 for their families. Just part of the ransom was paid, so law enforcement could track down where the two were being held, resulting in their release and the arrest of six people.
Police across the country began monitoring the POGO industry more closely on a regular basis early last month. At the same time, lawmakers are working on a bill which could eventually completely ban the activity.