Philippine mayor accused of acting as Chinese asset amid investigation, tensions

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A Philippine mayor faces accusations of acting as a Chinese asset amid a growing territorial dispute between the two countries. 

‘No one knows her. We wonder where she came from. That’s why we are investigating this, together with the Bureau of Immigration, because of the questions about her citizenship,’ Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos told reporters this week. 

Alice Guo, the 35-year-old mayor of Bamban, has found herself in the middle of a potential scandal over her origins and allegiances. She claimed to have grown up on a pig farm and had raised no concerns prior to a strange discovery made in her town this month, the BBC reported. 

Law enforcement discovered that an online casino by the name of Philippine Offshore Gambling Operator (Pogo) in Bamban actually served as a front for a ‘scam center,’ which had close to 700 workers — including over 200 Chinese nationals — who were posing as ‘online lovers.’

The raid on the site in March rescued all of those workers, who claimed they were forced to work for the owners. The center tried to con victims with a ‘pig butchering’ scam, in which a scammer adopted a fake identity to gain trust and then offered a romantic relationship to manipulate and steal from the victim. 

Guo found herself entangled in the incident when it came to light that she owned half the land where Pogo was located.

The nation’s Senate brought her into a hearing to testify, and she claimed she had sold the land before she ran for mayor two years earlier, along with assets that included a helicopter and a Ford Expedition, both registered under her name but allegedly sold off before her campaign, the South China Morning Press reported. 

Other irregularities raised concerns about her status. She only registered with the Commission on Elections to vote in Bamban one year before she ran and won as mayor. 

She also admitted she only registered her birth certificate with local authorities at the age of 17 and gave few details about her background other than she was born in a house and home-schooled in a family compound where they raised pigs. 

Senators accused Guo of providing ‘opaque’ answers to their questions about her background, leading one senator to ask if Guo was a Chinese asset. She fired back that she was ‘not a coddler, not a protector of Pogos.’

China and the Philippines have found themselves in renewed territorial disputes as Beijing tries to enforce control over waters around the Philippines, leading to clashes between Chinese Coast Guards and Filipino fishermen. 

Last year saw a series of near clashes between the two coast guards near the Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippine authorities protested China’s use of a water cannon and military-grade lasers. 

China established a claim to the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, after which the Philippines formally launched a protest that went before a United Nations-backed tribunal. A 2016 ruling went against China, rejecting Beijing’s claims on ‘historical grounds,’ but Beijing rejected the arbitration and its outcome. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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