I am a love child, not a Chinese spy, says mayor

Bamban Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo from the Philippines
Mayor Guo says she loves "my country", the Philippines [Facebook/Mayor Alice Leal Guo]

A mayor of a small farming town in the Philippines has said she is a "love child" and not a spy for China.

Mayor Alice Guo who is being investigated for criminal operations, was unable to answer questions about her family history and upbringing during a senate hearing.

This led one senator to ask whether she was an "asset" for Beijing.

"I want to tell the public: I am not a spy. I am a Filipino and that I love my country," Ms Guo told the ABS-CBN News channel on Monday night.

She also revealed that she was her Chinese father's "love child" with his Filipina maid.

Her statement came after weeks of intense criticism on social media, where she was the subject of memes that lampooned her forgetfulness on details about her personal life and her supposed ties to China.

President Ferdinand Marcos also weighed in, expressing his concern.

Ms Guo is being investigated because authorities discovered that an online offshore casino in her town of Bamban was actually a front for a scam centre.

Her case is unfolding at an especially tense time between Manila and Beijing, who are locked in a dispute over reefs and outcrops in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Ms Guo said her mother left her when she was a baby and that she grew up with her father at their piggery compound in Tarlac, a farming province north of the capital, Manila.

"I am my father's love child with a maid... It's a very private matter. I can't just tell anyone that my own mother had deserted me," she said.

She apologised to senators for failing to fully illustrate her parentage because during the testimony, "my mind just went blank."

'I had no friends and playmates'

During the Senate hearing, Ms Guo admitted that her birth certificate was registered only when she was 17 years old. She said she was born in a house, instead of in hospital. She also claimed to have been home schooled, but could not give further details.

Doubts were further raised when it was discovered that she registered to vote in Bamban town in 2021 - the year before she successfully ran for mayor.

Ms Guo said she was ashamed of being illegitimate, and that is why she largely stayed inside the family's pig farm.

"I had no friends. I had no playmates. I grew up hidden in our farm," she said.

But as she grew into her late teens, she said she got involved in her father's business. She said she would buy corn from nearby Tarlac towns to make hog feed.

Aside from scant details about her birth and education, lawmakers also questioned how Ms Guo could know nothing about the criminal activities hiding under the offshore casino.

These are known as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or Pogos.

The Pogo that served as cover for the gangs in Bamban was built on land partially owned by Ms Guo, but she said she had sold her stake before she was elected in 2022.

Authorities raided the facility last March and rescued close to 700 workers, including 202 Chinese nationals and 73 other foreigners who were forced to pose as online lovers.

The eight-hectare compound was like a small city, complete with a grocery, warehouse, swimming pool, and even a wine cellar. The scam centre workers toiled on rows and rows of long white tables with computers.

Pogos flourished during the tenure of Rodrigo Duterte, whose presidency, which ended in 2022, was marked by close ties to China.

But under current president Ferdinand Marcos, Pogos have come under close scrutiny after it was discovered that some of them have been used as fronts for human trafficking and online scam operations.

Ms Guo was also found to have a helicopter and a Ford Expedition registered under her name but like the land, she claims, these have been sold long ago.

During the television interview on Monday, Ms Guo was asked about a viral photo of her with a McLaren sports car.

She said the McLaren was loaned by a friend for display at a town fiesta.

Ms Guo also reiterated that she was not involved in the Pogo or the human trafficking and scam centres.

"I am not that powerful. I am just a simple citizen from a second-class municipality. I don't have those kinds of connections," she said.

President Ferdinand Marcos has ordered authorities to investigate Ms Guo's citizenship and make sure that foreigners are not allowed to hold public office.

"I have heard talk that I would be deported. My own mother left me. Now, will my own country deport me too?" she said.

She said she would seek re-election next year. Mayors in the Philippines are allowed three consecutive three-year terms.

"I will not resign. I will continue serving my constituents," she said.