OFWs in China as spies? 'Preposterous,' says Lorenzana
MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana lashed back at Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, who reportedly said overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in China could be accused of spying just as well as Chinese workers in Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) hubs near military camps.
"That's the most preposterous statement I heard in a long while," Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday, August 18, in which he questioned Zhao's comparison of POGO workers and OFWs.
"POGO workers came over for a different purpose...likely just tourism, but eventually got visas to work in an activity at the POGO centers operating gambling operations which is prohibited in China," Lorenzana continued.
"Knowing that Chinese companies are mandated by the Chinese government to assist in intelligence collection for their government, it is not far-fetched that individuals, likewise, could be compelled to do so."
On the other hand, Filipinos "go to China for specific work that's legitimate there with Chinese visas," said Lorenzana.
"They are more like Chinese nationals working in construction projects here in the Philippines, as mutually agreed upon by both countries. There are no POGO-like centers in China that can be operated purely by Filipinos near Chinese military camps," he pointed out.
On Friday, August 16, Lorenzana expressed concern that Chinese POGO workers, especially those in hubs near military camps, could easily "shift" their operations to espionage.
There are POGO hubs located or being constructed near the national headquarters of the military in Camp Aguinaldo, and of the police in Camp Crame, both in Quezon City; the headquarters of the Army in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, and of the Air Force at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City; and the Sangley Point Naval Base in Cavite City.
On Saturday, August 17, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Chinese envoy sent him a text message reacting to Lorenzana's statement on POGO workers.
"Ambassador Zhao sent me a text. He said, 'What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us? What can you say about that?'" Panelo said.
In his statement on Sunday, Lorenzana said OFWs were in no position to pose a similar threat to China.
"Filipinos are widely dispersed in China, working in homes and schools that are far away from military camps. The POGO centers here, meanwhile, are very near military camps and naval bases. It could be just coincidental because these were the only facilities offered for POGO operations and I believe that the POGO workers are here just for work only. What I am alarmed [about] is the potential that they could be tapped for information gathering purposes," Lorenzana said.
There are an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 Chinese nationals working for POGOs in the Philippines, insider sources earlier told Rappler.
Aside from the threat of espionage and their impact on the Philippine economy, a security analyst said POGOs may be used for money laundering to fuel dubious activities, and broaden China's already increasing influence on Philippine affairs.
But for Lorenzana, the obvious concern is their proximity to Philippine military bases.
"That is why I support the relocation of the POGO centers to economic zones that are not proximate to military camps," he concluded in his statement. – Rappler.com