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China: ‘Pogo hubs’ might violate rights of Sino workers

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Thursday expressed “grave concern” that a plan by the Philippine casino regulator to move thousands of Chinese citizens working at online gambling companies in the country to “self-contained hubs” might be a violation of their rights.

Malacañang also warned the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) that the plan could be an infringement of the rights of foreigners working legally in the country.

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Pagcor, however, said the plan was meant for the welfare and protection of 138,000 Chinese nationals working at Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos), a booming industry manned mostly by workers from China.

For Chinese protection

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“The hubs are, in fact, being established for the protection of the foreign workers,” Pagcor Chair and CEO Andrea Domingo said in a statement.

“They are no longer exposed to crimes being committed against them on the streets, they are assured of good working conditions and decent living quarters, and will be given their proper visas as there will also be other relevant government agencies setting up offices at the hubs,” Domingo said.

The Chinese Embassy issued a statement on Thursday saying it was seriously worried about Pagcor’s plans for Pogo hubs and asking the government to protect the “legitimate rights and interests” of Chinese citizens in the country, and tighten the screws on the industry credited with helping sustain the boom in Philippine real-estate development.

Chinese citizens are prohibited by their country’s laws and regulations from engaging in any form of gambling, even online gambling, gambling overseas and opening casinos in other countries  to attract Chinese nationals as primary customers, it pointed out.

The embassy noted that a large number of Chinese citizens had been illegally recruited and hired in the Philippine gambling industry.

“In many cases, the employers of Philippine casinos, Pogos and other forms of gambling entities 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.

‘Modern slavery’

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Many Chinese citizens working illegally in the Philippine gambling industry are subjected to “modern slavery” and “severe limitation” of their freedoms, it said.

“Their passports are taken away or confiscated by the Philippine employers. They are confined to live and work in certain designated places and some of them have been subjected to extortion, physical abuse and torture as well as other ill treatments,” it added.

The embassy did not cite local complaints about and a Senate inquiry into the influx of Chinese tourists who end up as illegal workers in the Philippine gambling industry.

It, however, “warned that relevant Chinese companies or individuals in the Philippines immediately stop relevant illegal activities, otherwise they will be punished in accordance with Chinese law.”

The embassy said the Chinese government would investigate and crack down on groups organizing gambling overseas and opening online gaming, and “destroy” criminal organizations involved in the recruitment of gamblers from China by foreign casinos, and the use of the internet to operate casinos in China.

According to the embassy, the targeting of Chinese customers by Philippine casinos and Pogos has “severely affected” Chinese society.

Money laundering

It said a huge amount in Chinese funds had illegally flown out of China and into the Philippines, in such crimes as cross-border money laundering through underground banking.

China will also go after “underground banks” and online platforms that facilitate financial settlement in cross-border gambling and other crimes, and wipe out domestic support operators and companies that provide technical support for such crimes, the embassy said.

The embassy issued the statement after Pagcor announced its plan to establish Pogo hubs at Clark in Pampanga province and in Kawit, Cavite province, to limit Chinese workers’ interactions with Filipinos, who find the Chinese rude and boisterous.

Malacañang gave assurance that the government would not allow violation of the rights of foreigners legally working in the country.

“If you restrict their liberties, then there might be a violation because if your only reason is rudeness, you can always subject them to violations under the Revised Penal Code,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

But Domingo said the concern that the Chinese workers would be herded into the Pogo hubs and exploited there were baseless.

Hubs to be regulated

She said operations at the hubs would be regulated by authorities and checked for compliance with welfare standards.

The hubs, she said, would have office and residential spaces, restaurants, health and recreational centers, service shops and other amenities.

“[There will be] no need to be going to other places just for some of their needs,” she said. “Nonetheless, they are free to go anywhere they want without any limitation on their personal rights or liberties.”

Pogo hubs, such as the development rising on the site of the former Island Cove resort in Kawit, will have government offices to ensure full compliance with immigration, labor and tax regulations, she said.

The Chinese complaint came as Philippine lawmakers and some executive officials had started calling for tighter controls on Chinese entering the country.

Sen. Joel Villanueva on Thursday said his labor committee might discuss the proposed Pogo hubs, but also national security, money laundering and the impact of Pogos on Filipinos.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros sought an inquiry into reports that Chinese investors were planning to put up resorts on Fuga Island in the Babuyan archipelago and on Grande and Chiquita islands on Subic Bay, citing security concerns raised by the Philippine Navy.

The proposed resorts are among the agreements signed between Filipino and Chinese businessmen during President Duterte’s visit to China in April.

Malacañang dismissed Hontiveros’ call for an inquiry as premature, although it did not oppose a probe. —REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, DAXIM L. LUCAS, JULIE M. AURELIO, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND REUTERS

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TAGS: Chinese Embassy, Pagcor, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, POGOs
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