Philippines-China relations

[Vantage Point] The Manchurian candidates 

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] The Manchurian candidates 

Marian Hukon

I do hope that the ongoing Senate investigation will not suffer the same fate experienced by the multitude of probes it conducted in the past which were only tossed to its record vaults to gather dust, and much later consigned to oblivion

Just when I thought that the Senate inquiry about the supposed  “gentleman’s agreement” with China on the maritime conduct in Ayungin Shoal couldn’t get any murkier, here comes former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea claiming that the supposed agreement was made in 2013, halfway into the presidency of the late of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. His allegation – an obvious defense of former president Rodrigo Duterte, his boss – has dragged the issue further down the gutter.

On May 21, Medialdea told the joint House committees on national defense and security that it was then-defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin who made the agreement with then-Chinese ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing. He offered no solid evidence, however, saying that he had unintendedly heard about it from someone whose identity he couldn’t remember.

Such wild claims! We all know that the Philippines under Aquino had wobbly relations with Beijing. It was under his watch when the country had successfully invalidated China’s claim on the entirety of the South China Sea through the Permanent Court of Arbitration which, on July 12, 2016, ruled in favor of the Philippines. It was a ruling which the Duterte administration deemed “just a piece of paper” and never enforced. Duterte’s apathy toward the ruling has emboldened China to aggressively plant its flag on the contested waters, an area which is well within our country’s exclusive economic zone.

Former Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (AFP-Wescom) chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos was reported to have shaken hands with a Chinese official in a pact that would effectively keep the status quo in the South China Sea. In the supposed deal, the Philippines purportedly agreed to remove the BRP Sierra Madre, which for the longest time, served as an outpost on the submerged but strategic Scarborough Shoal, a flashpoint in the stand-off between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has been harassing Filipino fisherfolk and keeping them away from the lagoon.

Under President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s administration, China is claiming that it has entered into another arrangement – a so-called “new model” – that, at least, according to a transcript of a conversation leaked by the Chinese embassy in Manila states that the Philippines agrees to terms that seemingly favor China’s stakes over the shoal.

Schooled in China

Warmer ties with Beijing actually started during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In fact, it was during her term when Carlos benefitted from a 2004 intergovernmental program that sent AFP officers for training in China. Together with other military officers, Carlos was sent to Beijing to learn “best practices” from China for adoption in the Philippine military system.

It was also under Arroyo when the Philippines explored several investment deals with the communist nation, the most infamous of which were the ZTE broadband project and the North Luzon Railways Corporation (NorthRail) project. The latter was abolished by Marcos in October last year, four years after the Governance Commission for Government-Owned or -Controlled Corporations (GCG) ordered its deactivation. The project was formally canceled by Aquino in March 2011 due to persisting legal issues and allegations of overpricing and corruption.

Carlos has denied ever entering into a secret deal with any Chinese official. He confirmed however that he did have a short phone conversation with a certain Chinese official, “Senior Col. Li,” in January of this year. He said the call lasted for only three to five minutes.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on national defense, Carlos said that he did not commit to any agreement “at the level and magnitude that would bind the two countries for the long term and redefine foreign policy,” and that “it was the Chinese official who initiated the phone call and [that] they did not discuss the so-called new model.” He also denied being asked or giving his consent to anybody to record their conversation.

From my vantage point, however, the revelation of a supposed “new model” by Lian Jian, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, implies that Carlos, an alumnus of the Beijing Military Academy, could have been China’s point man all along. In fact only a few in government know about Carlos’ military schooling in China. It could also be the reason he was recently removed as Wescom chief. If I remember correctly, the issue about him getting military education in China was raised only when high AFP officers were facing congressional confirmation hearings on their respective appointments in August 2023.

It was also revealed that the Philippine National Police (PNP) also sent some of its officials to China for training. I could not stress enough that there could be conflicts of interest in these officials having developed deep camaraderie with their Chinese counterparts. How could it not be problematic to have our soldiers and police officials trained by the same people from whose ranks come those who now continuously harass our fisherfolk and openly violate our country’s sovereignty in the WPS? Pray tell, why are some of our police personnel serving as bodyguards to high-ranking officials of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) from China?

It cannot be helped if this situation reminded me of the 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate and its 2004 reworked version, based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name. The book is a political thriller about the son of a prominent US political family who is brainwashed into being a “Manchurian candidate,” as unwitting assassin programmed to kill for a communist conspiracy. Manchuria refers to the region of northeastern China that now covers the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning, which some geographers say also include northeastern Inner Mongolia. Manchuria has a long history of conquering and being conquered by its southwestern neighbor, China.

Fortunately, AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner cut off the program in August 2023 after the Senate’s discovery. He also revealed that some generals have been approached by China to gain their support for its territorial claims in the contested waters. Brawner added that some are being recruited for espionage activities in the WPS.

Undersecretary for Cybersecurity Jeffrey Ian Dy of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) confirmed the alarming disclosure, saying that Chinese firms, disguising themselves as American and European organizations to avoid suspicion, have been offering jobs for online military analysts, paying “hundreds of dollars per hour.” The DICT discovered the scheme only in December last year. Upon analysis of the domain name origins, they were found to have come from registered Chinese companies. 

It is only now that the Philippines is waking up to the scary truth that China will never compromise in using all of its military and economic might to subjugate any nation that blocks its ambition to become a world power. It is naïveté or stupidity for some of our elected officials to think that China would accede to a conciliation to resolve the maritime dispute between our countries. Both chambers of Congress now have their hands full in trying to ferret out how China through its actors was able to infiltrate various government institutions to carry out its not-so-noble intentions.

Alice Guo

Mayor Alice Guo of Bamban, Tarlac, is now the subject of an intense Senate probe after police had alleged that she has an interest in a POGO in her town. After a series of sleuthing, the POGO company,  Zun Yuan Technology Incorporated at A1 Commercial Bldg., was raided by elements of the PNP and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC). It was later discovered that the company was actually a front for a scam center

As her case develops at an especially edgy time between Manila and Beijing, the Senate is slowly unearthing crucial details that indicate how deeply Chinese actors have assimilated themselves into the country’s corrupt bureaucracy. 

On top of human trafficking, scams, and other illegal activities, the POGO in the Baofu Compound in Bamban is also suspected of being a haven for money laundering. 

The mayor dug herself into a deeper pit and exposed herself to more intense internet ridicule when, upon questioning, she professed no recollection of her childhood or anyone who can attest to her identify.

Huang Zhiyang, one of her fellow incorporators in Baofu, is a fugitive, according to the PAOCC. Guo said she found this out only during the May 7 Senate hearing. Two other incorporators of Baofu are Chinese national Zhang Ruijin and Dominican Baoying Lin, who are involved in what is considered the biggest money laundering case in Singapore.

Internet sleuths are also claiming that Guo’s father, Angelito has ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Ban POGOs now!

I have been very consistent in my stand that the country should exorcise itself from POGOs not only because of the various moral evils they export here, but also because of the bridge they offer to Chinese spies to operate in the country without being detected. 

As discussed in a previous column, POGOs have also become the quintessential milking cow for corrupt law enforcement and local government agencies. In fact, some sectors have questioned the manner the raid was conducted by law enforcement agents.  

After the raid, sources revealed to Vantage Point that company officials were denied entry into the building and were prevented from conducting an inventory of computers and other high-value equipment, including a vault in which the company kept important documents and cash amounting to tens of millions of pesos. 

The company may have been a front for nefarious activities as alleged, but official records also show that Zun Yuan Technology’s operation is aboveboard as it does business under a provisional internet gaming license issued by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) in October 2023. It should be noted that after the raids, no cases have been filed and no one has been jailed. 

As I have pointed out time and again, despite obviously being used as fronts for criminal activities, the Philippines does not have the will to disengage from POGOs because of the revenue they bring. Pagcor’s profits from the sector had risen to P5 billion last year from P2.9 billion in 2022. For the government, the economic gains of POGOs far outweigh the detrimental social costs of gambling, such as the increased criminality it engenders, the corruption it fuels, and the family breakdown it causes. 

In fact, the POGO sector is very much alive, with its top official saying that it provides employment to close to 70,000 Filipinos. Pagcor chair and chief executive officer (CEO) Alejandro Tengco said POGOs, now called International Gaming Licensees (ILG), also contribute to the growth of the property industry as they occupy 625,000 square meters of office space. Asked if he was open to issuing more international gaming licenses, Tengco responded in the affirmative, “unless [he is] barred from doing so.” 

I do hope that the ongoing Senate investigation will not suffer the same fate experienced by the multitude of probes it conducted in the past which were only tossed to its record vaults to gather dust, and much later consigned to oblivion. I hate to say what is clear to some people’s mind. Every probe which both chambers conduct is done in aid of election and not of legislation. –

Val A. Villanueva is a veteran business journalist. He was a former business editor of the Philippine Star and the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times. For comments, suggestions email him at

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  1. ET

    It’s a profoundly frustrating and infuriating reality that every probe conducted by both chambers is seemingly done in aid of election, not legislation. The replacement of former Senate President Migz Zubiri, possibly due to his failure to follow instructions in line with this, is a stark reminder of this sad and enraging state of affairs—a heartfelt thanks to Sir Val Villanueva for bringing this to light.

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