The case of Alice Guo: How raiding a human trafficking ring uncovered a possible Chinese “sleeper agent” in the Philippines

Forget anything on Netflix or Amazon Prime, the hottest series Filipinos are watching right now is the ongoing Senate investigation into the so-called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).

These are online gambling companies that are based in the Philippines but cater to foreign markets. Most of these POGOs are Chinese-backed and also only employ Chinese nationals recruited overseas, leaving very little economic benefit for Filipinos.

In addition, the POGO industry has become a hive of criminal activity itself. Many of the foreign nationals who entered the country to work in POGOs were later found to be fugitives with pending criminal cases in their home country.

Stock photo - Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator
A Chinese customer gambles online with a POGO, as gambling is banned in China. POGOs have become a hot button political issue in the Philippines and one which has raised concerns about Chinese interference in our national affairs.

Instead of gambling, many of these POGOs conducted criminal activities such as cryptocurrency scams and became fronts for kidnap for ransom crimes. In response, Philippine authorities have been cracking down on POGOs – resulting in numerous raids on these establishments.

The largest such raid happened in the town of Bamban, Tarlac where as many as 851 persons from one establishment were arrested for criminal activity. Authorities raided a POGO firm Hongsheng Gaming Technology, Inc. allegedly for their involvement in a cryptocurrency investment scam.

Police recovered luxury cars, cryptocurrency-related equipment, and firearms inside the 7.9-hectare compound that housed several POGO firms, owned by Baofu Land Development Inc. Nine Filipino employees of the POGO were considered as witnesses and testified that they experienced physical abuse and torture inside the POGO compound.

How such a large operation involving hundreds of foreign workers could operate in a small town for so long raised questions, but even more baffling was the fact that the POGO compound was located beside the Bamban Municipal Hall. It is highly improbable that the local government would be impervious to what was happening literally in their own backyard.

The exposé created a much deeper rabbit hole when Senator Win Gatchalian bared that Bamban mayor Alice Guo had applied for the POGO’s license herself, before being elected as the town’s leader in 2022. This not only confirmed a link between the Bamban Municipal Hall and the illegal POGO, it proved that the local government was behind it.

Bamban, Tarlac mayor Alice Leal Guo.
Bamban, Tarlac mayor Alice Leal Guo.

Although trying her best to deny any ties with the POGO, incriminating evidence against Guo were found inside the raided POGO compound including a Ford Exhibition registered under her name. She later admitted that she was a co-owner of Baofu Land Development, Inc. but had sold all her shares before running for mayor.

The Philippine Senate called for an investigation into the raid on the POGO compound in Tarlac, with a focus on the involvement of Bamban town’s mayor Guo. That inquiry created more questions than answers.

Not only was Guo’s links to the POGO questioned, but even her identity itself. The elected town mayor told the Senate panel she did not know her siblings, Sheila and Seimen Guo, despite the Bureau of Immigration (BI) showing the three had travelled together to and from China and were also co-incorporators in a number of companies.

Even more bizarre, Guo also could not give much details about her life and upbringing: she insisted to have been raised on a farm, but could not give details of where this farm is. Her alleged parents, Angelito Guo and Amelia Leal, also have no birth certificates with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) nor are there are records of their supposed marriage.

The small town mayor told the Senate hearing that she lives a “simple” life, only to be confronted with her Statement of Assets, Liability and Net Worth (SALN) in the hundreds of millions of pesos. Her assets include at least 13 vehicles registered under her name and her own private chopper.

Senator Risa Hontiveros has led the charge in the Senate's inquiry into POGOs involved in criminal activities, including possible espionage and hacking of Philippine government agencies. (Photo: Risa Hontiveros Facebook page)
Senator Risa Hontiveros has led the charge in the Senate’s inquiry into POGOs involved in criminal activities, including possible espionage and hacking of Philippine government agencies. (Photo: Risa Hontiveros Facebook page)

How could a 37-year old amass such great wealth at her age without having any prominent parentage, and in such a small town? Despite Bamban, Tarlac only having a population of less than 80,000 people, no one in the town claims to know Alice Guo, who her parents are or even where she came from.

The unraveling of Guo’s identity has raised questions: is she an asset of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made to infiltrate Philippine politics? This is further reinforced by her very obvious difficulty in speaking the Tagalog language during interviews, as well as the lack of records that could shed light on Guo’s education and medical histories.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who heads the Senate panel investigation POGOs and Alice Guo, raised that the raided POGO hub in Bamban town may have hosted CCP mercenaries in it – including spies and web hackers who target Philippine government websites.

At the start of the year, the country experienced several incidences of cyber attacks which was largely attributed to the escalating row with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Senator Hontiveros revealed that those cyber attacks were “traceable” to the same POGO compound raided in Bamban town, right beside Mayor Guo’s own town hall.

The Senate investigation into the Tarlac POGO raid and on Mayor Guo’s identity is still ongoing, but the mere fact that a person with no clear identity and is not known by the town despite claiming to have lived there for generations, is linked to a crime den that has been targeting Philippine government assets is as big of a red flag as a scandal can be.

Further exposing Alice Guo and her connections not just to POGOs but also the CCP should be the priority as the Senate investigation continues. In the meantime, the Philippine government and the wider Filipino public need to have their eyes wide open at the possibility of Chinese sleeper agents operating in the country.

One thought on “The case of Alice Guo: How raiding a human trafficking ring uncovered a possible Chinese “sleeper agent” in the Philippines

Comments are closed.