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EDITORIAL - Looking the other way

The compound in Bamban, Tarlac sprawls across nearly eight hectares housing 34 buildings. Another, in Porac, Pampanga has 46 buildings sitting on about 10 hectares. The buildings and structures look new and made of expensive, good quality materials. From the number of work stations in the premises, it looks like the establishments employed thousands of workers.

And yet, listening to the local government officials of Bamban and Porac, it’s as if the two compounds with all those new buildings sprouted out of nowhere, like mushrooms after heavy rain, with officials in the two towns largely unaware of how it happened and what went on later behind the fences.

If not for some employees escaping from the Philippine offshore gaming operator hubs and decrying torture and other forms of abuses, authorities would have left the POGOs untouched, with little effort to determine if the establishments were legitimate enterprises.

Authorities have yet to establish the real owners of the POGO hubs. Amid swirling rumors and public speculation, the mayors of Bamban and Porac are effectively saying, don’t look at us. As people wonder how the POGOs managed to set up shop and conduct their extensive illegal activities, the local government units are currently engaged in finger-pointing with the regulator of offshore gaming, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. PAGCOR officials have pointed out that business licensing and construction permits are issued by LGUs. The local executives, on the other hand, give the impression that because they consider gaming to be under PAGCOR supervision, LGUs keep their hands off POGOs.

Lawmakers, who are currently conducting an inquiry on the POGO in Bamban and its mayor, Alice Guo, are now considering separating the functions of PAGCOR as both gaming operator and regulator. Meanwhile, authorities are readying criminal complaints for torture, human trafficking and cyber scams including love scams against the managers and owners of the POGO in Porac – if they can be identified and found.

Officials of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission said they found a so-called torture chamber, with a possible fatality, in the Porac POGO. The