Philippine senator: ‘Disturbing’ pattern of abuse of visas show ‘collusion’ within Bureau of Immigration

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MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer) — Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said the “disturbing” pattern of abuse of Philippine visas show possible collusion within the Bureau of Immigration or BI to allow Chinese nationals “easy access” into the Philippines.

Risa Hontiveros

Hontiveros made the statement after she led a Senate investigation into the alleged links to prostitution and human trafficking of Philippine offshore gaming operators or Pogos.

During her hearing on Monday, Hontiveros cited an unnamed informant who claimed that Chinese nationals, most of whom are employed as Pogo workers, pay a 10,000 pesos or $197 service fee on top of the regular tourist visa fee in exchange for easy entry into the country.

Immigration officials, who were present at the hearing, claimed they are unaware of such a scheme and insisted that reforms are now in place.

“There’s a disturbing pattern that seems to be emerging of the abuse of our travel documents. The abuse of our visas by syndicated Chinese and their accomplices among Filipino travel agencies and tour operators,” Hontiveros said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

“That leads to the niggling doubt that there may be also collusion from inside the BI which should be the holder and the only guardians of these travel documents into the Philippines,” she added.

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, stressed that crimes and corruption are connected with the offshore gaming industry.

“We started with Carina. So, a Filipino girl who was prostituted met with foreign women who’d been trafficked into the country by these China-based syndicates in collusion with their Philippines-based trafficking prostitution syndicates,” she said.

The senator was referring to a 15-year-old victim of a sex den catering to Chinese nationals who narrated her experience during a hearing led by Hontiveros on Jan. 28.

“Because of that hearing, Ivy (a Taiwanese woman) came forward to say she had been illegally recruited also to work in an illegal [offshore gaming] like the [one] that Carina was sold to,” Hontiveros went on.

In a press conference last week, Taiwanese national Lai Yu Cian surfaced at the Senate after she was rescued from a offshore gaming company, where she said she was physically, verbally and sexually abused.

“Now my informant yesterday says because of the magnitude of the [offshore gaming] industry here and their need to keep bringing in more and more Chinese workers, abuse and corruption continue,” Hontiveros said.

“It brings corruption, it brings all the other unsavory businesses that are attracted by these online gaming including trafficking, prostitution, illegal recruitment and detention, sexual harassment and then the corruption of the country’s own law enforcement and regulatory agencies,” she added.

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