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Illegal Philippine ‘POGO’ Hospitals Provide Plastic Surgery to Fugitives

Illegal Philippine ‘POGO’ Hospitals Provide Plastic Surgery to Fugitives

Authorities in the Philippines have uncovered an underground hospital linked to the POGO (online gambling) industry and say they know of two more such operations.

Underground hospitals, POGO, online gambling, cosmetic surgery
Shock discovery: Philippine police discovered an illegal hospital inside an online gambling compound in Pasay City, above, complete with hair transplant tools, dental implants, and skin whitening drips. (Image: PAOCC)

They believe the hospitals are being used to treat POGO workers who cannot use regular health services because they are in the country illegally or may have been trafficked to the Philippines to work. But they also suspect the operations are providing cosmetic alterations to help fugitives evade capture.

During a raid in May on the underground medical facility in Pasay City, police found hair transplant tools, dental implants, and skin-whitening drips.

“If you bring all these things together, you can create an entirely new person out of those,” Winston John Casio, a spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), told reporters Monday.

What’s a POGO?

POGO stands for Philippine offshore gaming operator. The industry is largely dominated by Chinese nationals. It thrived under the tenure of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who licensed and taxed the industry provided it agreed not to target Philippine citizens. Instead, it focuses on China, where all forms of online gambling are illegal.

But Duterte’s successor, President Bongbong Marcos, has vowed to crack down on the POGOs, many of which have been found to have trafficked workers to toil in scam centers as virtual slaves.

In June, 150 Chinese nationals were rescued after police raided a POGO compound in Porac, Pampanga province, where they also uncovered torture devices

More than 4,000 POGO-linked crimes, including kidnapping and murder, were reported from January 2017 to the first half of last year, according to police data.

“The president does not want the Philippines to be painted as a ‘scam hub’ and has given us a directive to go after scam farms because of how they have been targeting large numbers of people from all over the world,” Casio said.

New Faces

Police are now trying to determine whether the underground hospitals are linked to reports of fugitives changing their appearance to avoid detection.

In December 2022, immigration officials arrested a suspected member of the Chinese Mafia, Andy Chen, who had links to human trafficking and the POGO industry. The Immigration Bureau reported that Chen had undergone cosmetic surgery in an attempt to conceal his true identity.

Police were alerted to the presence of the unlicensed clinic by an informant, according to Casio. They arrested two Vietnamese doctors, one Chinese doctor, a Chinese pharmacist, and a Vietnamese nurse at the scene. None were licensed to practice medicine in the Philippines.

Casino said two additional underground hospitals exist in the Metro Manila area, which are bigger than the Pasay City facility. He believes “a good number” of such operations may exist across the country.

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