Congressman seeks stricter rules for investor’s visas

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A  LAWMAKER from Mindanao has urged Congress to amend and update the outdated Special Investor’s Resident Visa (SIRV) program, which is being exploited by foreign drug syndicates, money launderers, and other criminal elements to establish their operations in the Philippines.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said the SIRV program, managed by the Board of Investments (BOI), is now being used as a “ticket” by unscrupulous foreign individuals, turning the country into a haven for their illegal activities.

Under Book V of the Omnibus Investment Code (Executive Order 226, as amended), the SIRV program requires investors to remit at least US$75,000 into the country and invest in viable economic activities.

“For just P4.8 million [P58.51 to US$1], a member of a criminal syndicate can enter, stay, and conduct illegal activities in our country using the SIRV program as a cover,” Barbers stated. “For foreign syndicates, particularly Chinese drug syndicates and money launderers, P4.8 million is a small amount compared to their illegal earnings.”

Barbers, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Dangerous Drugs, noted that many Chinese are using the SIRV program to run retail stores in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, selling smuggled, cheap goods from China.

“This has led to complaints from our Filipino-Chinese locals in the retail business, many of whom have suffered losses or closed down. These Chinese nationals can no longer be considered investors as they now compete directly with our Filipino-Chinese retailers,” he said.

The Lower House is currently investigating the influx of Chinese working in illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogo) establishments; involvement in drugs smuggling; acquiring Filipino citizenship using spurious documents; money laundering, fraud, kidnap-for-ransom, and other criminal activities.

One of these Chinese, Barbers said, was identified as Willie Ong who is believed to be the brains behind the importation of 530 kilos of shabu worth P3.6 billion stashed in his warehouse in Mexico, Pampanga, in September last year.

Ong, who possesses forged Filipino passports and other documents, together with his Chinese cohorts, established the Empire 999 real estate company, which has anomalously been able to buy 320 titled lots in various parts of Central Luzon and Metro Manila.

The government, through the Office of the Solicitor General and the Land Registration Authority, is out to conduct forfeiture proceedings against Ong’s acquired real estate properties worth several billion pesos.