FIFTY-seven of the 1,240 Chinese who were arrested for illegal online gambling have tried to escape from their temporary detention cell inside the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga but majority were either captured or voluntarily returned with 27 still unaccounted for.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) spokesman, lawyer Antonette Mangrobang, disclosed the incident happened on Thursday around 3 a.m. but 35 of the Chinese decided to return with the help of the Chinese Embassy.
“They voluntarily returned after their managers were contacted by the Chinese Embassy. The Chinese Embassy told their managers that their cases were being ironed out with the Immigration bureau,” Mangrobang told The Manila Times.
She said a manhunt for the 27 missing Chinese by joint immigration and police operatives is underway, adding that none of them can get out of the country because all of the 1,240 who were arrested were placed under the BI’s hold departure order list.
The incident was earlier disclosed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre in an interview with radio dzMM, saying “a Chinese syndicate [in cahoots with corrupt immigration personnel]manipulated the escape of 70 [of the]arrested Chinese [who]were [later captured]or returned though 27 were still unaccounted for.”
But a highly-placed immigration source in Clark told The Manila Times in a phone interview that “they did not escape, they were allowed to escape,” hinting that money changed hands but the source did not elaborate.
He said the Chinese detainees are housed inside the Fontana Convention Center and are free to roam the center, adding that there were only 18 immigration intelligence officers who are guarding the more than 1,000 Chinese.
“Actually, on the day they were arrested, many of them have already been released. Another 600 more are set to be released anytime from now. They filed a petition for bail,” the source added.
Mangrobang confirmed that some 600 more Chinese have filed a petition for bail, saying “their papers are now pending with the Board of Commissioners for approval.”
The 1,240 Chinese were rounded up by authorities last November 25 for illegally working in an online gambling den inside Fontana Leisure Park, owned by Jack Lam, a Chinese, who, according to the DOJ secretary is the biggest operator of online gaming in the Philippines.
Aguirre said Lam does not have a permit to operate from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which means that he is not paying the government a single centavo.
He also disclosed that Lam, through an emissary, retired Police General Wally Sombero, tried to bribe him and Chairman Andrea Domingo of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said there would be no whitewash in deportation proceedings against the more than 1,000 Chinese even as reports said bribes were being offered for their release.
“They will undergo deportation proceedings and their cases will be decided on the merits and the evidence to be presented,” Morente added.
He promised a speedy resolution of the foreigners’ cases in order to allay suspicions or allegations of irregularities, saying those found liable for violating immigration laws, particularly those who overstayed or violated the conditions of their visa, will be deported immediately.
The BI legal division has filed immigration charges against the 1,240 Chinese for “overstaying, working in violation of the limitations and conditions of their visa and engaging in an unlicensed online gaming business.”