BI tightens checks on foreigners amid rise in kidnap cases – INQUIRER.net

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MANILA, Philippines — Immigration authorities have tightened the screening of foreigners coming from Cambodia and Vietnam in response to the rise in kidnappings and extortion activities by syndicates believed to have originated from those countries.
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Norman Tansingco on Tuesday ordered front-line personnel to subject the foreign nationals to a secondary inspection upon determining “doubtful purpose” for their visit to the Philippines.

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The BI issued the order after law enforcement agencies reported an uptick in kidnappings and extortion activities from organized crime groups, whose members were traced to the two Southeast Asian countries.
“We look at arrival trends and look for patterns. Our partnership with other law enforcement agencies allows us to see whether there is a need to tighten measures on certain types of travelers,” Tansingco said in a statement.

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The BI did not specify whether the order targets only Cambodian and Vietnamese citizens or other nationalities.
But the bureau’s spokesperson Dana Sandoval told the Inquirer it was implemented “in light of reports that aliens involved in unscrupulous activities use this route.”

Last week, the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said the Philippines had become a hotbed for “Chinese gangsters” who were forced to shut down online gambling operations in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The two governments had outlawed Chinese-backed online gambling and overseas casinos — similar to Philippine offshore gaming operators, or POGOs — to safeguard security and public order, forcing the crime groups to relocate elsewhere.
The latest data from the Department of Tourism showed that as of Sept. 1, more than 1.37 million foreigners have visited the Philippines since February after its borders reopened to international tourism.
Of these, 634 arrived from Cambodia while 22,696 were from Vietnam.
Tansingco said the bureau’s efforts to implement the advance passenger information system would allow the agency to better look at the trends and implement measures for border security.

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The Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs started last week its inquiry into the reported increase in criminal activity by foreign syndicates, particularly Chinese workers at Pogo companies accused of targeting their own compatriots in various schemes.
The immigration bureau said it has observed an increase in the number of arrested foreigners over the past months, straining the limited capacity of its detention center.
“It’s really a challenge … our detention facility, which has a capacity of 300 detainees, now holds more than 200 arrested foreign nationals,” Sandoval said in a radio interview, referring to the bureau’s Bicutan Detention Center in Taguig City.
According to Sandoval, the bureau is coordinating with law enforcement units and agencies regarding the temporary physical custody of foreigners.
“What we are doing now is partnering with the local enforcement unit agencies, those we work with during operations, to temporarily transfer to them the physical custody of arrested foreign nationals,” she said.
Among those kept in custody at the Bicutan center were 41 foreigners who were rescued during an operation against unlawful Pogos in Angeles City last week. They were allegedly being detained and forced to work at the Pogo firm Lucky South 99 Outsourcing Inc. along Fil-Am Friendship Highway.

The Pogo company was shuttered by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. on Saturday over the allegations of abduction and trafficking of foreign workers.
Sandoval said the foreigners in BI custody were expected to be deported because, apart from their criminal liabilities, many of them were undocumented and overstaying in the country.
But authorities are still checking whether the foreigners have unsettled cases in the Philippines before they are sent home, she said.
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