Is Alice Leal Guo real?

Alice Leal Guo, the forgetful 37-year-old mayor of Bamban, Tarlac, claims she grew up raising hogs in one of the town’s 15 barangay. During the campaign for the 2022 elections, she offered to be married to the town’s residents.

Two years after her historic win, being Bamban’s first female chief executive, Guo finds herself the subject of a Senate inquiry on her possible connection to the questionable operations of a Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) hub in the same town.

POGOs are licensed online gambling firms operating in the Philippines but catering to customers outside the country. They are regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

Guo’s answers during the initial Senate probe on May 7 raised more questions regarding her identity and the circumstances that led to her election as mayor of Bamban town. While she spoke like a Filipino more than the typical Chinese, her physical features are more Chinese than Filipino.

She didn’t look nervous when opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros peppered her with questions about her personal circumstances. Most of her responses were insubstantial — either she could no longer remember, or she had forgotten about the thing, such as the house where she was born. Her explanation on the sources of her and her family’s wealth is far from convincing.

Guo has no school records, saying she was homeschooled by a certain Teacher Rubilyn. Her certificate of birth was registered 17 years after she was born. Online sources have conflicting versions of the year of her birth registration: some say it was in 2003, while others say it was in 2013.

Questions about Guo’s identity led Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian to suspect that the Bamban town mayor’s electoral victory could have been a signal that the Philippines was entering the era of so-called POGO politics.

Gatchalian, who has been pushing for a total POGO ban in the country, initiated the investigation of Guo after finding out that she supposedly facilitated and backed an illegal Chinese gambling site in Bamban that was raided in February 2023 and last March.

Gatchalian cited official documents linking Guo to Hongsheng Gaming Technology Inc., which supposedly changed its business name to Zun Yuan Technology Inc. after its facility in Barangay Anupul was first raided in February 2023. He said that in 2020, when Guo was still a private citizen, she asked the Bamban municipal council to allow Hongsheng to operate there. The 8-hectare POGO hub, with 36 buildings, was raided again last March 13 over charges of alleged human trafficking and serious illegal detention.

At the May 7 Senate hearing, Guo said without batting an eyelash, “Hindi po kami involved in any POGO operation.” Hontiveros later said Guo lied before the joint committees on women, children, family relations, and gender equality; migrant workers; and public order and dangerous drugs.

The POGO hub in Bamban was also suspected of involvement in surveillance activities and the hacking of government websites.

During the hearing, Guo identified her father as Anghelito Guo but later admitted that his real name was Jian Zhong Guo. Hontiveros said the Senate is in possession of a certificate of live birth of Anghelito Guo, of which his nationality was registered as Filipino. However, another document for his embroidery business listed him as a Chinese national.

Guo also admitted to having a Chinese stepbrother, who is based in China. But she denied having two other siblings who have the same middle and surname as her and shared the same home address in a business document.

Hontiveros said the Bamban town mayor has yet to present a public record that will undoubtedly establish her identity as a Filipino national. Being Filipino is more than adopting a Filipino name and speaking the local language.

Filipino nationality is a basic qualification for running for public office. How she managed to run and even win the election in 2022 underscores the need for tighter scrutiny of the candidates not only for national positions but also for local seats. Perhaps, candidates for mayoral and lower posts in the local government should also be natural-born Filipinos, just like in the higher positions.

How this Chinese-looking candidate who “just came out of nowhere” during the 2022 elections got the highest number of votes among five candidates is puzzling. She won as an independent by 468 votes over the Nationalist People’s Coalition bet, Joey Salting, who got 16,035 votes, but it is still perplexing how she bested three candidates backed by established political parties.

Apart from offering herself to be married to the Bamban residents, what else did she promise that made her win the voters’ support? Her Facebook page shows her gifting senior citizens with cake on their birthday. She also danced, held children, and went house to house during the campaign.

Hontiveros said Guo might be a Chinese “asset” trained to infiltrate and influence the Philippine government. She said her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth, as well as the statement of contributions and expenses she should have filed in 2022, would reveal more about her identity.

For now, what is clear is that this town mayor, who grew up raising hogs, has been making a mockery of our laws and political system. Binababoy tayo sa ating sariling bayan!

This is worse than businessmen and contractors who used to finance the candidacy of politicians but are now occupying important positions in government, disregarding prohibitions on conflict of interest.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.