Senator Hontiveros alleges POGOs gave rise to prostitution, ‘menus’ of women on messaging apps

Photo: Unsplash
Photo: Unsplash

Senator Risa Hontiveros is pushing for the suspension of Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) because the firms have allegedly given rise to prostitution, as a Senate hearing disclosed how women are being pimped to POGO workers through social messaging apps.

“We need to act,” she said in yesterday’s hearing. “We need to look into suspending POGO operations because they attract criminals into our country.”

Read: Nearly 100 Chinese women rescued from high-tech Makati prostitution den: NBI

Hontiveros, who heads the Senate committee on women, also alleged that foreign women are being trafficked into the country through the use of visas upon arrival (VUAs), which are allegedly converted to work visas by travel agencies in exchange for PHP10,000 (US$197). She also alleged that these same syndicates that traffic women are also involved in kidnapping and trafficking.

“How are they able to do that, and why is it apparently China-based foreign syndicates [that are] involved in kidnapping, trafficking that could be related to, or the same with prostitution syndicates here in the Philippines? They charge, they sell the ‘services’ of these women and children,” she said in a separate interview with ANC’s Early Edition.  She also added that there was possible collusion among immigration officials in the granting of VUAs to trafficked women.

It was just yesterday that the Bureau of Immigration (BI) stopped issuing VUAs temporarily to Chinese tourists to curb the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus. Prior to that, the BI also announced that VUAs could no longer be extended or converted to work or resident visas.

In yesterday’s hearing, Hontiveros said that photos of the trafficked women are being disseminated through online messaging apps in WeChat and Telegram.

“The women are ordered from these apps by the Chinese members of these groups. It’s like Grabfood, there’s a menu, there’s [a] price, then it’s delivered to your hotel or condo,” she said.

Read: Two Chinese nationals arrested for allegedly operating sex den in Makati City

In her presentation, the senator showed a “menu” chat group with a variety of girls, including Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Filipino women. In the chat groups, the women are called “tea,” a term often used to refer to prostitutes in the Chinese sex industry to evade online censors, Hontiveros said.

A woman who testified in yesterday’s hearing backed up Hontiveros’ findings, and alleged that she was recruited to work as a masseuse in the country but ended up being a prostitute. She alleged that most of her clients were Chinese, and that she was paid up to PHP7,000 (US$137) for her services. However, most of her earnings went to her pimps, a Filipino woman and her Chinese husband.

Raids on prostitution dens catering to Chinese nationals have become a common occurrence in cities in Metro Manila since the proliferation of POGOs, which cater to a largely Chinese clientele and are also often staffed by Chinese nationals. The women working in such brothels are also Chinese, and some of them were recruited from China with the promise that they would land decent jobs in the Philippines.


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