by Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) with Christina Mendez, Emmanuel Tupas, Robertzon Ramirez, Mayen Jaymalin – Aug 16, 2019
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers yesterday raised concern about the presence of what they described as military-looking Chinese workers in a Philippine offshore gaming operation (POGO) facility in Las Piñas City.
Rep. Eric Pineda of 1Pacman party-list, who chairs the House committee on labor, said residents have seen some Chinese workers whose haircuts and body build resemble that of soldiers.
“They look like military men who sport clean haircuts and are physically fit like soldiers,” Pineda told reporters.
Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat have filed House Resolution 221 urging lawmakers to conduct an inquiry into the validity of POGO facilities in the country.
They said the House committees on games and amusement and good government and public accountability should look into the proliferation of POGO facilities and their impact on national security, economy and the Filipino people.
The lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of these offshore gaming facilities as less than 10 of the 56 POGOs accredited by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) have corporate websites where the public can access information about their operations.
Rep. Jericho Nograles of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list said the government could better regulate POGOs if these are located in special economic zones.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo debunked the statement of Pagcor chairman Andrea Domingo that the surge of Chinese workers in offshore gambling firms does not threaten the country’s national security.
“Well, that’s the opinion of the Pagcor chief. But I would defer to the opinion of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon because that is precisely his job,” he told reporters.
Panelo backed Esperon’s assertion that the entry of undocumented foreign workers should be considered threats to national security. The military also raised concern over the plans to build POGO hubs in three islands in the country.
Domingo said the POGO hubs would sesrve as one-stop shop for government transactions. The Pagcor has collected about P11.2 billion in revenue from POGOs since 2017.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has stepped up efforts to regulate the entry of foreign workers in the Philippines.
BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said they signed an agreement with other government agencies so that foreigners will be given an option to apply for working visas before they will be allowed to enter the country.
Sandoval said the current procedures allow Chinese with tourist visas to enter the country. “If they intend to work here upon their arrival, their tourist visa will be converted into working visa,” she said.
Sandoval noted that foreigners who want to work in the Philippines would undergo assessment before being granted an alien work permit by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
“The DOLE is the one screening if foreigners nationals are eligible to work here or not,” she said.
The BI has issued 77,000 alien employment visas while the DOLE granted 38,000 special work permits to Chinese nationals.
More cases of casino-related kidnapping have been recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) due to the proliferation of POGO facilities.
Data from the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) showed that 52 kidnapping cases related to gambling debt were documented since 2017.
A total of 119 Chinese said to be involved in kidnap-for-ransom schemes were arrested where 96 of their compatriots were victims.
“Casino debt-related kidnappings continue because of the surge of Chinese in the country,” AKG director Col. Jonnel Estomo said.
As of June 9, Estemo said there are 56 licensed POGO companies in the Philipines that employ about 100,000 to 250,000 Chinese workers.
He said there are around 30 illegal offshore gaming facilities.
Estomo said the increase in hotel and casino leisures has invited loan shark rings preying on Chinese gamblers.
A labor group opposed the plan of Pagcor to isolate Chinese working in offshore gaming firms.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said isolating these Chinese workers is “unacceptable in a modern society.”
TUCP president Raymond Mendoza issued the statement in response to Pagcor vice president for offshore gaming Jose Tria’s announcement that they would limit the operations of POGOs to certain hubs to address complaints over the reported unruly behavior of some Chinese employers.
The group called on DOLE to inspect POGO facilities to ensure that these firms comply with labor laws.