The Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG) has stated that the number of kidnapping cases involving Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) almost doubled last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although AKG director Brig. Gen. Jonnel Estomo says there was a total of 17 cases recorded in 2020, this represents an 88% increase from nine incidents in 2019.
He said: “There was a slight increase in the recorded cases particularly in the year 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
«Since there was a stoppage on the operations of the online gaming casinos, employers have no profit and to survive they will detain their employees and deprive them and ask for money in exchange for the liberty to their families abroad.»
According to the report from the Philippine News Agency, the number of overall gambling-related kidnapping cases in the country last year decreased to 14, a 63% decline from 38 cases recorded in 2019.
Among the latest incidents was the arrest of eight people allegedly belonging to a Chinese “kidnap for ransom” gang that targets employees of the online gaming industry.
The leader of the gang was reportedly among those arrested. The gang targeted Chinese nationals who were working in the Philippine casino industry, and the sting operation was launched after one of the kidnapping victims was found dead, despite ransom being paid.
Currently, there are 51 operators with a licence to operate in the country, but the list is shrinking, mostly due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions and unknown future for the industry.