By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday rejected insinuations that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) working in China could be spies, saying Filipino migrant workers have no history of engaging in espionage.
“Our OFWs are not spies. They have no history of espionage. Filipinos abroad are valued both for their skill and unique blend of hard work and care. They pose no threat,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“In fact, in China, our workers are employed in areas that are nowhere near military and security facilities. To insinuate that they could be committing espionage is not only insulting but plainly false,” Hontiveros added.
Hontiveros was reacting to the supposed veiled threat Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua reportedly told Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo that China may be inclined to look at Filipino migrant workers as spies.
This was after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana aired concerns that Chinese manned Philippine Online Gaming Operation (POGO) hubs near military facilities pose security threats.
Panelo reportedly said that Zhao sent him the text message in which the ambassador said: “What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us?”
Hontiveros pointed out that the country’s defense department did not accuse Chinese workers employed in POGO hubs as spies. She said the DND merely questioned the proximity of the firms to military camps, which could be exploited by unscrupulous individuals or groups to gather intelligence and undermine the country’s security.
Lorenzana claimed that the Chinese government mandates Chinese companies to assist in intelligence collection for their government.
“Foreign workers, including Chinese workers, who fully comply with our laws and respect the rights of Filipino workers are welcome in our country,” she said.
“We demand the same from our OFWs working in and hosted by foreign countries. However, our country also reserves the right to ensure the safety of its citizens and protection of its state secrets,” the senator said.
Hontiveros said one way to address the issue was for the DND to make a comprehensive appraisal of all Chinese POGOs near military installations and camps and provide necessary proposals.
She also said it was imperative for the government to provide stricter regulation of the POGO industry to ensure that revenues are being monitored, taxes being paid, and domestic facilities not being used to commit crimes.
She also said it was imperative that the government puts pressure on the Chinese government, and ensures that they will work closely with local authorities in regulating the entry of illegal and undocumented Chinese workers into the country.