The city government has begun a probe into the operations of a company suspected to be behind an illegal online gambling operation based in several hotel establishments around Puerto Princesa.
The company was identified as Octofox IT Solution, which according to city officials during an initial hearing held Monday, has brought in at least 250 Chinese nationals without proper working visas and staying in separate hotels.
The probe that was called by the City Council was prompted by reports from netizens claiming that certain Chinese nationals had been using the hotels as their operating base to run illegal online casino activities.
City tourism officer Aileen Cynthia Amurao said in the meeting Monday that their recent inspection revealed that there are long-term staying Chinese guests with passports registered in Macau.
“Nakuha namin ang copy ng mga passports nila and majority of them came from Macau pero last March lang sila dumating. Sabi nila they are scattered all over the city, confirmed po ‘yon,” Amurao said.
She said they found laptops, cellphones, and wifi routers in some establishments, as well as some Chinese nationals.
Endorsed to PAGCOR
Councilor Rolando Amurao said they have endorsed Octofox to the PAGCOR early this year but only to allow the company to operate at the Unitop mall, a Chinese-owned establishment.
He, however, expressed surprise why the Chinese workers are already in the city and are scattered around several hotels.
“Binigyan po talaga natin ‘yan ng endorsement papunta sa PAGCOR pero sa Unitop lang. Kaya kung may operation kayo sa ibang hotel o inns ay hindi pwede base doon sa PAGCOR. Kaya kung may sinasabi sa ibang hotel ay haka-haka lang ‘yon. Wala pang ebidensya na rampant ang ganitong gawain dito sa Puerto Princesa. But, nagtataka lang kami sa mga Chinese na nandito, hindi naman sila naga-avail ng mga tours, doon lang sa hotel pero suspetsa pa lang ito,” Amurao said.
Octofox IT Solution president Garry Abriol claimed their company is not yet operating, stating they are still waiting for the issuance of working visas to the 250 Chinese workers.
Abriol also presented his documents to the Council, including a Mayor’s permit, Security Exchange Commission (SEC) registration, and permit from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
“Hindi pa kami nag-ooperate kasi nga inaantay pa natin ang mga working visa ng mga Chinese. Para po itong casino na offshore operation, kaya lang ngayon despite of the issued permits ay kailangan pa namin antayin ang working visa,” he said.
He said they are currently conducting training for the online games while waiting for their visas from Manila.
“Doon lang po sila nakatira sa ibang mga accomodations. Sa ngayon po, nagti-training pa lang sila. ‘Yong mga nagti-training ay sila na rin ang mga umuupa ng matagal sa mga accomodations,” Abriol said.
The Chinese workers were reportedly booked in a total of 12 hotels and inns: Royal Oberoi Resorts and Spa, Casa Fuerte Bed and Breakfast, La Charica Inn and Suites, Aquari Traveller’s Suites, Kookaburra, White View Hotel; Balai Hardin, Tropical Sun Inn, Ipil Suites, Westville Tourist Inn, Audissie; and Cecilia’s Comfort Inn.
Hotel owners’ denial
Majority of the owners and operators of the accommodations admitted they are accepting Chinese nationals but denied there are illegal activities inside their establishments.
Evelyn Tan, the owner of Tropical Sun Inn, denied that there is an illegal online gambling activity in her establishment.
She said the Chinese nationals only stayed for around two to three weeks in her lodging inn.
“Tulog lang talaga sila d’yan. Tinanong ko sila kung anong gagawin nyo d’yan? Cybersex or shabu laboratory? Ang sabi hindi. I am very frank sa kanila. Then they come, stay and go. Some of them stays for a week, two or three. That’s it,” Tan said.
Luis Marcaida II, the owner of Aquari Traveller’s Suites, also denied catering to illegal online gambling.
“Maliwanag po ang usapan namin ng mga representative ng mga Chinese na hindi pwede ang mga ganoon na gawain. Alam natin ang ibang turista na pumupunta rito ay naghahanap ng aliwan, so if in case, alam ‘yan ng mga team leader nila na bawal kung saan sila nakatira,” he said.
Councilor Roy Ventura said that Octofox should present its contract with the PAGCOR to see the limitations and conditions.
“Ipakita nyo muna sa amin ang contract ninyo with PAGCOR para makita natin kung ano lang ba talaga ang gagawin nyo,” Ventura said.
The City Council has asked City Mayor Lucilo Bayron to create a task force that will conduct a probe into the matter, with members coming from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), City Tourism Office (CTO), City Police Office (CPO), Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO), Bureau of Immigration (BI), City Legal Office (CLO), and City Engineering Office (CEO).