And now, POGOs and pangolins
Add the trafficking of the critically endangered Philippine pangolins to the list of social ills spawned by the explosion of Philippine online gaming operators (Pogos) and the influx of Chinese workers into the country.According to a new study by Traffic, a wildlife monitoring network, 6,894 Philippine pangolins were seized between 2018 and 2019, representing over 90 percent of pangolins intercepted in the past two decades.
The Philippine pangolins, thriving only in the jungles of Palawan, are one of eight species of the scaly, ant-eating mammals found in Asia and Africa. The trading of pangolins is prohibited, yet the animal is known to be the most-trafficked mammal in the world due to demand for its scales used in traditional Chinese medicine, and for its meat which is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian countries.
In a recent seizure, according to Emerson Sy, one of the authors of the study, some 1,154 kilos of scales were discovered in a warehouse in Puerto Princesa, the largest seizure ever recorded in the country. Horrifically, the scales, valued at P46 million, came from killing at least 3,900 pangolins, said Sy.
How is the recent upsurge in this illegal trade tied to Pogos?
Traffic’s study noted that there were unusual retrievals of live pangolins found on the streets of Metro Manila recently, usually in residential subdivisions in Pasay, Parañaque, and Manila where Chinese nationals working in Pogo hubs are known to stay by the thousands.
Some restaurants are now also known to serve pangolin dishes, fetching between P30,000 and P40,000 for a stew of the exotic meat. “Conversations with contacts and restaurant workers pointed to mainland Chinese nationals who are looking to consume wild meat and reportedly willing to pay the high asking price as the primary consumer of pangolins in the Philippines,” said the study.
Likewise, some traditional Chinese medicine stores in Manila reportedly sell medicines containing pangolin derivatives.
Aside from environmental concerns, the trafficking of pangolins has become a keen issue with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization said bats are the likely reservoir of the virus but that it might have jumped to another species before being transmitted to humans. Pangolins are under scrutiny as a possible intermediate host of the new coronavirus, picking up the pathogen from other animals in the wild.
Traffic’s study should provide more impetus to Philippine authorities to intensify their drive against illegal Pogos, unauthorized Chinese workers, and their local operators flouting laws in the country undeterred by the COVID-19 outbreak and the strict government lockdowns. A compilation by the Inquirer Research department showed that between April and August, with the country under community quarantine, at least 330 Chinese nationals were arrested in various raids on illegal Pogos. On April 24, for instance, 44 Chinese workers were apprehended in Barangay Tambo in Parañaque; on May 5 in a condominium on Obrero Street in Makati City, 63; on June 2 in Barangay Laging Handa in Quezon City, 150; and on Aug. 4 in a hotel in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, 73.
At least 10 underground clinics conducting COVID-19 tests and treatment exclusively for Chinese nationals were also found to be operating during the lockdown. Tracking by Inquirer Research showed that on April 28, Parañaque City filed cases versus a certain Yumei Liang aka Liza Wu for operating at least three underground clinics; on May 19, an underground hospital was busted in Fontana Leisure Park in Pampanga, but alleged operators Liu Wei and Hu Shiling were released without charges on the same day; and on June 5, the National Bureau of Investigation raided a clinic conducting COVID-19 tests for at least 100 Chinese nationals in Las Piñas.
The surge in the number of illegal Chinese workers coming to the country was a veritable gold mine for some enterprising government personnel, giving rise to the “pastillas’’ bribery scheme at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) where immigration officials were paid grease money in rolled bond paper in return for allowing Chinese nationals to enter the country without proper documentation or permits. Other than the rote firing or reassignment of personnel allegedly involved in the scam, what has happened to the investigation into the corruption at the BI, which, according to whistleblower Allison Chiong, involved no less than 90 percent of the bureau?
Where is the government update, for that matter, on the P50 billion of unpaid taxes from Pogos, when income from these online gambling outfits has been cited by advocates and champions of the sector as much-needed by the country at this time, and hence a good enough reason for letting Pogos be despite the catalogue of shabby problems they have brought into the country—now apparently including the rampant illegal trafficking of pangolins?
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