By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang said that Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua was just expressing an opinion when the latter said that China can also suspect that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in their country are actually spies.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement after Zhao said that China can think the same way about OFWs there if Filipinos really suspect that Chinese workers in the Philippines are a threat to the country’s security.
In a radio interview, Panelo said that Zhao was only expressing an opinion about Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s concern about the presence of Chinese-manned Philippine offshore gaming operation (POGO) sites near military camps.
“Opinion lang ni Ambassador Zhao yun (That was just Ambassador Zhao’s opinion). Siguro (Perhaps), in response to the statement of the Secretary of National Defense. Kaya nga (That’s why) he was expressing an opinion and Secretary Lorenzana was also expressing an opinion,” he said.
“Hindi naman sa akin directed yun, eh. Sabi niya sabihin ko kay Secretary Delfin. Hindi ko pa nasasabi (It was not intended for me. He asked me to relay it to Secretary Lorenzana but I haven’t yet),” he added.
Panelo earlier said that he was invited by Zhao for a working dinner. However, the Palace official said Sunday that it was reset to another date.
Lorenzana earlier said that POGO workers could easily shift to spying activities, even suggesting that they are moved away from camps to hubs where they can be monitored by finance and immigration authorities.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) has proposed to move all POGOs to a hub. However, the Chinese embassy expressed concern that this can be considered as a violation of the rights of their workers in the Philippines.
In his interview, Panelo said that the Palace is okay with the idea as long as it will not violate the rights of the Chinese workers.
“Basta (As long as) it will not infringe or violate the rights of the Chinese workers. Kung makakatulong sa kanilang protection, wala kaming objection doon (If it will help in their protection, then we will not object),” he said.
Meanwhile, Panelo agreed with Lorenzana that the issue on Chinese warships passing through the Sibutu Strait has already become an irritant.
“It’s becoming an irritant if you keep on repeating certain acts that may be viewed to be in violation of the UNCLOS and not as an act of friendship between two countries,” he said.
According to Panelo, the government can “always file a diplomatic protest” and let China respond to it.
However, Panelo said that it will be up to President Duterte if he would discuss the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their upcoming bilateral meeting in China later this month.