Search warrant for POGO raid withdrawn, halting operation

Operatives of the Philippine Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) had to call off a raid on an illegal offshore gaming operator or POGO hub in Porac, Pampanga early this week after a court withdrew the search warrant it issued for the operation and rejected an application for a new one.

PAOCC spokesman Winston John Casio said a regional trial court in Malolos, Bulacan withdrew the search warrant based on what he described as technicalities, as the persons and items to be searched were reportedly not specified in the warrant.

“We are appealing to the judge, the honorable court. We asked her to look beyond the technicality, focus on the merit. Unfortunately, she did not rule based on the merit but on technicality, that’s why she denied it,” Casio said yesterday in an interview over dzBB, referring to their application for a new warrant.

In the absence of a search warrant, the PAOCC and other law enforcement agencies were unable to enter the compound of the Lucky South 99 on Fil-Am Friendship Highway.

He admitted there is “POGO politics” that explains why some government agencies interfere in PAOCC operations.

“There really is POGO politics but we are not imputing any malice or criminal liability to the honorable court,” he emphasized.

The PAOCC is awaiting the result of its application for another search warrant from another court.

Casio said they are investigating a possible leak in information on the raid, as people were spotted leaving the Lucky South 99 compound 30 minutes after PAOCC applied for a search warrant at 10 a.m. on June 4.

“I don’t believe there wasn’t any leak,” he said.

Casio said he hurriedly went to Porac after securing the search warrant on Tuesday after receiving information that the planned raid had already leaked and reached people at the POGO hub.

It was after he and some officials of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) read the warrant that they noticed a problem.

“The court did not indicate the persons to be searched and the items to be searched and seized,” Casio said.

The following day, June 5, Casio said the judge cancelled the warrant and denied PAOCC’s application for a new one.

The Philippine National Police (PNP), for its part, said the Porac municipal government has a lot of explaining to do as the POGO hub has been operating since last year even without a license to operate from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said the local government unit (LGU) should have done its own investigation.

“It’s the job of the LGU through their business permit and licensing office,” she said overh dwPM radio.

Fajardo stressed police should be given court permission to enter the property as other victims of torture, such as the Chinese national rescued on Thursday, could still be inside the compound.

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court (SC) said it would look into allegations that some POGOs may be exerting influence on the country’s judiciary.

“The Supreme Court will investigate these,” SC spokesperson Camille Ting said in a text message to reporters.

SC’s decision to investigate came on the heels of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian’s pronouncement on Thursday that Chinese syndicates were apparently trying to influence the country’s judiciary based on the outcome of a recent raid on a POGO hub in Pampanga.

“Based on the information I received, this POGO hub has a seating capacity of more than 1,000 agents. That’s 1,000 workers. However, only 140 plus were caught because apparently when the [PAOCC] filed a search warrant someone already tipped the operators,” Gatchalian said at a press conference.

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