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China slams Pagcor proposal to place Chinese workers in 'hubs'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – China on Thursday, August 8 slammed the proposal of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor)  to move Chinese working in Philippine offshore gaming operations to “self-contained” hubs.

In a statement sent to reporters on Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Manila expressed “grave concern” over the proposal and urged the Philippines to protect that the rights of the Chinese workers.

“The Chinese Embassy expresses its grave concern over such potential move by Pagcor, which may infringe on the basic legal rights of the Chinese citizens concerned, and strongly urges the Philippine government to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens in the Philippines,” China said.

China said it required its citizens overseas to abide by local laws and reiterated its order for them not to work illegally in foreign countries. It also pointed out that many Chinese workers were illegally recruited to work in POGOs.

"A large number of Chinese citizens have been illegally recruited and hired in the Philippine gambling industry. In many cases, the employers...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," it said.

China issued the statement after Pagcor vice president for offshore gaming Jose Tria that the hubs for Chinese workers in Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) were proposed to address complaints over their “unruly behavior.”

“That is the reason why we came up with these POGO hubs. These will be self-contained communities (to limit the) interaction between Filipinos and foreign workers,” Tria said in an interview on One News’ “The Chiefs” on Tuesday, August 6.

Tria added that Pagcor would “cancel” the authority of POGO companies to operate outside the proposed hubs. He said some government agencies would also set up offices in the hubs for monitoring purposes.

So far, POGO company Oriental Game has started setting up the proposed “hubs” for Chinese workers in Cavite while other locations outside Metro Manila were being eyed. Oriental game is the biggest POGO company in the country. (READ: How China’s online gambling addiction is reshaping Manila)

Affecting China

In its statement, China also lamented how Philippine casinos, POGOs, and other forms of gambling have "targeted Chinese customers and severely affected the Chinese side." These is seen, it said, in the illegal flow of funds out of China and into the Philippines and poor working conditions for Chinese in the Philippines, among others. (READ: A Chinese online gambling worker's plight in Manila)

The Chinese government vowed to crack down on cross-border gambling activities, saying its Ministry of Public Security will carry out "special operations" to prevent and address offshore gaming in China.

"The Chinese side hopes and urges relevant departments of the Philippine Government to pay more attention to China's position and concerns and take concrete and effective measures to prevent and punish...gambling entities for their illegal employment of Chinese citizens and crack down related crimes that hurt the Chinese citizens," China said.

Senator Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Senate labor committee, on Thursday reiterated his plan to seek an inquiry into the regulation of POGOs where senators “may tackle the proposal to gather POGOs in hubs.” 

“Putting them in hubs may  create a perception of greater regulatory control for the government, but the issue of national security, money laundering and greater economic impact for Filipinos have not been addressed,” Villanueva said.

Philippine officials earlier expressed concern over the large number of Chinese working in the Philippines. Insiders estimated that there are "easily" around 100,000 to 250,000 Chinese employed in POGOs.

This prompted Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr to propose ending the visa-on-arrival privilege for foreigners. (READ: Duterte gov't to stamp PH map 'with entire EEZ' on China passports) – With a report from Aika Rey/Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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