THE PHILIPPINES has revoked the visas of more than 1,400 Chinese nationals working in offshore gaming companies whose licenses had been canceled, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said on Wednesday.
“We are giving them 60 days to leave the country,” DoJ spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV told a televised news briefing in Filipino, adding that this is more “cost-efficient and humanitarian” than deportation.
The government started cracking down on mostly Chinese gambling companies that offer online gambling services to markets outside the Philippines after a spate of kidnappings mainly victimizing Chinese nationals.
Mr. Clavano said they receive daily reports of criminal activities linked to these illegal gambling outfits.
“It looks like these Chinese nationals are making our country a playground for crime,” he said. “This is why we need to crack down on these illegal Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO).”
Last month, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian to discuss the deportation of those behind the illegal gambling operations.
China earlier said it would help Philippine law enforcers tackle crimes linked to offshore gambling.
Several senators have proposed to ban offshore gaming operations in the country that they blamed for the spate of abductions.
Labor Undersecretary Benjo Santos M. Benavidez told the same briefing the agency would help workers in legitimate offshore gambling companies in case the ban happens.
“The government’s job is to work with the private sector to implement social protections policies and programs in case of loss of jobs and livelihoods,” he said in Filipino.
Mr. Benavidez said about 23,000 work permits were issued to workers in offshore gaming operations this year.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Manila denied blacklisting the Philippines as a tourist destination. “The report of tourist blacklist is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” it said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
In a separate statement, the embassy said “tourism is an important component of practical cooperation between China and the Philippines” and that it expects more Chinese tourists to come to the Philippines after the coronavirus pandemic.
China, where gambling is banned, had blacklisted the Philippines as a tourist destination because the government continues to allow offshore gaming operations, Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said on Tuesday after meeting with Mr. Xilian.
Mr. Xilian supposedly said the Philippines had been blacklisted “because they do not know if the tourists going there will be joining POGO operations, and they do not know if their nationals who go to the Philippines will be safe from illegal activities done by the Triad, by the syndicates operating POGOs.”
‘MISTAKE’China first revealed the existence of a supposed tourism blacklist in 2020 for areas that were “endangering the personal and property safety of Chinese citizens.” The list has not been officially released.
Mr. Zubiri insists on the blacklist information, noting that his conversations with the Chinese envoy had been witnessed by two of his colleagues and several staff members.
“The word blacklist did not come from senators,” he told a news briefing in mixed English and Filipino. “This was mentioned by the Chinese ambassador. Maybe he was lost in translation if the blacklisting was in the present or future tense.”
“The fault lies with the ambassador,” Mr. Zubiri said. “He mentioned blacklisting. Maybe he made a mistake.” he said.
On Tuesday evening, the Senate president told reporters in Viber group message: “POGOs are totally illegal in China and those promoting it will be arrested; their government is asking us to stop hosting this activity and it could affect tourism potentials if these activities continue.”
The Chinese were among the top foreign visitors in 2019 at 1.74 million, contributing 0.7% to Philippine economic output, according to data from the Tourism department. There have been 22,236 Chinese arrivals this year.
The Chinese Embassy said crimes associated with Philippine offshore gaming operators harm both Philippine and Chinese interests, as well as their relations.
“It is therefore widely believed that the social costs of POGOs far outweigh their economic benefits to the Philippines in the long run,” it said, adding that these “should be tackled from the roots.”
“We share the sentiment of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines that tourism is an important facet to our relationship,” acting Press Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil told a separate news briefing. “We look forward to continuing that relationship as we continuously welcome our friends from China and we anticipate more of them to come in the months and years ahead.”
Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is monitoring POGOs, she said. “The president is closely monitoring this and as far as the president is concerned, the Philippine National Police is in charge of this.”
The Marcos administration is picking up the mess left behind by ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, during whose term these gambling operations flourished, said Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher.
“The long term impacts of Duterte’s policy choices are becoming apparent, and Marcos Jr. has the choice of keeping continuity or charting a different trajectory,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “That is if he can be bothered to take the reins of leadership.”
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George T. Barcelon said the Philippine government should carefully consider how it plans to deal with POGOs, citing potential effects on other industries.
The government should “balance out the impact of downsizing POGOs,” he told a separate news briefing. “One of the sectors that will be affected badly is the realty sector. A lot of buildings built in the last five years were solely focused on accommodating the POGOs. It will have a trickledown effect on residences, on services such as hospitality.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Revin Mikhael D. Ochave