Secret hospitals giving criminals new faces shut

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Clandestine hospitals in the Philippines have been offering plastic surgery services to fugitives and scam centre workers to help them evade arrest, authorities say.

Two such illegal hospitals could be shut down “in the coming weeks” after police raided the first one in Manila’s southern suburbs in May, a police spokesman told the BBC.

Hair transplant tools, dental implants and skin whitening IV drips were seized from the hospital in Pasay City two months ago.

“You can create an entirely new person out of those,” said Winston John Casio, a spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Commission (PAOCC).

The two illegal hospitals under surveillance are believed to be four times larger than the one in Pasay, authorities said.

Their clients allegedly include those from online casinos, who are working in the Philippines illegally, Mr Casio said.

The online casinos or Pogos (Philippine Online Gaming Operations) cater to players in mainland China, where gambling is illegal.

But police say Pogos have been used as cover for criminal activities such as telephone scams and human trafficking.

Three doctors – two from Vietnam and one from China – a Chinese pharmacist, and a Vietnamese nurse were arrested in the Pasay raid, none of whom were licensed to work in the Philippines.

Authorities also found a hemodialysis machine, suggesting that the facility, which was about 400 sqm, offered various medical treatments in addition to plastic surgery.

“They look like regular clinics on the outside, but once you enter, you’ll be shocked by the type of technology they have,” Mr Casio said.

“These Pogo hospitals don’t ask for the proper identification cards… You could be a fugitive, or you could be an illegal alien in the Philippines,” he said.

Authorities were tipped off on the existence of the illegal hospital in Pasay City.

Pogos flourished under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who sought friendly ties with China during his six-year term that ended in 2022.

However, his successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr has mounted a crackdown on Pogos, citing their criminal links.

“The president does not want the Philippines to be painted as a ‘scam hub’ and has given us a directive to go after scam farms because of how they have been targeting large numbers of people from all over the world,” Mr Casio said.

In December 2022, immigration officials arrested a suspected Chinese mafia member who allegedly underwent plastic surgery to evade detection. Such cases may be linked to the underground hospitals, Mr Casio said.

The mayor of a sleepy town north of the capital, Alice Guo, recently came under fire after a Pogo scam centre was busted near her office.

She has also been accused of being a spy for China after authorities questioned her birth records.

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