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Philippine police rescue 29 trafficking victims from gaming operator

MANILA - Philippine police have rescued 29 Myanmar and Chinese nationals who were allegedly trafficked and forced to work as "online scammers" for a gaming company in the capital Manila, authorities said on Friday.

It comes amid a crackdown on so-called Philippine offshore gaming operators, or POGOs, following reports of kidnapping, prostitution and murder.

POGOs employ mainly Chinese workers and target customers in China where gambling is illegal. Some have been linked to investment fraud.

The latest victims - 23 from Myanmar and six from China - were rescued during a raid by police on Thursday, Major-General Eliseo Cruz told reporters.

There would be "follow-up operations" based on information from the victims, he said, adding that they had worked for companies that pretended to have "legitimate operations of POGO" but were engaged in "illegal activities, particularly in trafficking of persons".

Two of the Myanmar victims told police they had arrived in the Philippines in March after being recruited in Dubai to work as "customer service representatives".

Their passports were seized and they were forced to work 14 hours a day, chatting online with potential clients and encouraging them to "play and invest money" as part of a scam, Maj-Gen Cruz said.

They received only one month's salary.

The informants said they tried to resign and return home, but were instead transferred to another company and told to pay 550,000 pesos (S$13,429) each before they could leave.

Unwilling to work and with no means to pay, "they were locked in a room, beaten and electrocuted by use of electric taser with no food and water", Maj-Gen Cruz said.

They were then sold for 3.5 million pesos to another company and told they had to repay the money.

While most POGO workers were Chinese, many other nationalities were employed in the industry, Maj-Gen Cruz said.

He said 97 victims of human trafficking have been rescued since 2019 in the Philippines. Of those, 62 were Chinese.

POGOs have boomed since 2016 as former president Rodrigo Duterte pursued closer trade and investment ties with China.

But the influx of tens of thousands of Chinese workers has created friction.

Many Filipinos complain POGOs have evaded taxes and driven up property rates while not providing job opportunities because not enough locals speak Chinese languages.

Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla recently ordered police to go after 175 operators whose licences had been revoked but continued to operate illegally.

Next month, the Philippines will start deporting the estimated 40,000 Chinese workers employed by those businesses, the ministry said on Tuesday. - AFP

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