MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military is investigating a report that thousands of Chinese soldiers are in the Philippines on an undercover mission, as senators probe the ramifications of the fast-growing number of Chinese online casino workers in the country.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) staff for intelligence is working with other relevant government agencies to confirm the information, AFP chief of staff General Felimon Santos Jr said in a message to reporters on Thursday, March 5.
“We are still validating the statement,” said AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence Brigadier General Charlie Gaerlan, adding the information remained unconfirmed as of this posting.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, head of the Senate committee on national defense and security, earlier said that 2,000 to 3,000 members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are on an “immersion mission” in the Philippines.
An immersion mission, in the World War II sense, is a country’s forward-deployment of its military to another country it intends to invade later on. An example was the Japanese Imperial Army sending the Kempeitai military police to the Philippines incognito – posing as merchants and workers – to preposition themselves ahead of the invasion on December 8, 1941.
Lacson emhasized that the report he shared with reporters had yet to be validated.
“I can only say that my source is fairly reliable based on past information that he has provided to me. The intelligence community should exert extra effort to gather information in this regard,” the senator said.
There are agents ‘for sure’
Several senators have launched investigations of illegal activities surrounding Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO), run almost entirely by Chinese nationals and catering to a Chinese clientele.
Kidnappings, human trafficking, prostitution, and cash smuggling were among illegal activities unearthed during televised Senate probes.
During Thursday’s hearing, Senator Richard Gordon presented a video produced by residents of the Multinational Village subdivision in Parañaque City, in which they complained about the suspicious and disruptive activities of the droves of Chinese POGO workers that have come to reside in their neighborhood.
Because the foreigners’ moving in coincided with the construction of a firing range near the subdivision’s clubhouse, residents worry that their new neighbors – young, able-bodied men and women – could be from the Chinese military.
Discussing the villagers’ concerns, Gordon asked AFP deputy chief of staff Major General Erickson Gloria whether it was plausible that the thousands of Chinese nationals in the Philippines, or at least some of them, could be from the military, or intelligence agents.
Gloria agreed with Gordon.
Late last week, police found PLA identification cards on two Chinese POGO workers who were suspects in the killing of another Chinese national in Makati City.
A military source who spoke on condition of anonymity told defense reporters that although Lacson’s claim is “improbable” – 2,000 to 3,000 is too many to be inconspicuous – there are Chinese intelligence agents operating in the Philippines “for sure.”
“Maybe they run in the hundreds and they use legitimate covers like businessmen, media, academe, tourists,” the source said.
Some 538,000 people from mainland China entered the Philippines from December 2019 to February 2020 alone, the Bureau of Immigration told the Senate panel on Thursday, illustrating the massive influx of POGO workers. – with a report from Aika Rey/Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.