By Roy Mabasa
The Chinese government on Thursday expressed its grave concern over the plan of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to transfer all Chinese nationals working in Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to “self-contained” community or hubs.
In a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, it said such potential move by PAGCOR “may infringe on the basic legal rights of the Chinese citizens concerned,” as it strongly urges the Philippine government to “effectively protect” the legitimate rights and interests of the thousands of its citizens who are currently in the country.
The Chinese government was specifically reacting to the remarks made earlier by Jose Tria, PAGCOR vice president for offshore gaming, who said that the transfer of Chinese nationals employed in POGOs to self-contained communities will limit their interaction with Filipinos and eventually address complaints of unruly behavior against them.
“The Chinese Government always requires Chinese citizens overseas to abide by local laws and regulations and not to work illegally in foreign countries,” the Embassy said, adding that they have repeatedly issued consular reminders to their nationals on many occasions and have clearly stated their position to relevant Philippine agencies.
It pointed out that under Chinese laws and regulations, any form of gambling by Chinese citizens, including online-gambling, gambling overseas, opening casinos overseas to attract citizens of China as primary customers, is illegal.
In many cases, it said the employers of Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities “do not apply necessary legal work permits for their Chinese employees.”
“Some Chinese citizens are even lured into and cheated to work illegally with only tourist visas,” the Embassy said.
Since Philippine casinos and POGOs and other forms of gambling entities are targeting Chinese customers, such activities, according to the Embassy, “severely affected the Chinese side” in several aspects.
First, it said a huge amount of Chinese funds has illegally flown out of China and illegally into the Philippines, involving crimes such as cross-border money laundering through underground banking, which undermines China’s financial supervision and financial security.
“A conservative estimate shows that gambling-related funds flowing illegally out [of] China and into the Philippines amounts to hundreds of millions of Chinese Yuan (Renminbi) every year. There are analysts who believe that part of the illegal gambling funds has flown into local real estate markets and other sectors in the Philippines,” the Embassy explained.
Also, the Chinese government maintained that since a large number of its citizens are lured into illegal gambling, it has resulted in an increase of crimes and social problems in China, including gambling crimes and telecom frauds which has caused “huge losses to the victims and their families.”
Moreover, it said many of the Chinese citizens working illegally in Philippine casinos or POGOs and other forms of gambling entities are subjected to “modern slavery” due to severe limitation of their personal freedom.
“Their passports are taken away or confiscated by the Philippine employers. They are confined to live and work in certain designated places and some of them have been subjected to extortion, physical abuse, and torture as well as other ill-treatment,” it stated.
The Chinese mission in Manila likewise noted incidents of dozens of kidnappings and tortured cases of Chinese citizens who gamble or work illegally in gambling entities in the Philippines.
“Some were physically tortured, injured or even murdered,” the Embassy said.
As such, China, through its Ministry of Public Security said it has taken many actions and will carry out more special operations aimed at preventing and combating the cross-border gambling.
“China will focus on investigating and cracking some major cases, including those of organizing gambling overseas and opening online gaming, and will destroy networks of criminal organizations involved in recruiting gamblers from China by overseas casinos and using the Internet to open casinos in China,” the Embassy said.
It also vowed to crack down on “underground banks” and online payment platforms that provide a financial settlement for cross-border gambling and other crimes and wipe out domestic network operators and companies that provide technical support for such crimes.
It likewise warned that Chinese companies or individuals involved in any form of gambling in the Philippines to immediately stop their illegal activities, or “they will be punished in accordance with Chinese law.”
The Chinese government urged relevant agencies of its counterpart government in the Philippines to “pay more attention to China’s position and concerns” and take “concrete and effective measures to prevent and punish the Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities for their illegal employment of Chinese citizens and crack down related crimes that hurt the Chinese citizens.”
Lastly, it urged the government in Manila to strengthen its law enforcement cooperation with Beijing, to jointly combat gambling-related crimes such as money laundering, illegal employment, kidnapping, extortion, torture, murder, and many others “so as to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens, and to promote China-Philippine friendship and cooperation.”
PAGCOR chairman Andrea Domingo, meanwhile, said the POGO hubs referred as “self-contained communities” meant that the hubs will have the “basic needs of the foreign employees of POGO, such as office and residential space, food establishments, wellness and recreational facilities, service shops, and others.”
“No need to be going to other places just for some of their needs. Nonetheless, they are free to go anywhere they want to without any limitation on their personal rights or liberties. The hubs are in fact being established for the protection of the foreign workers,” Domingo said.
“They are no longer exposed to crimes being committed against them on the streets, they are assured of good working conditions and decent living quarters, and will be given their proper visas as there will also be other relevant government agencies setting up offices at the hubs,” she added.