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PH envoy says China sanctions 'likely' on Pogo workers

PH envoy says China sanctions 'likely' on Pogo workers

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine ambassador to China has said that a report that the Chinese government had threatened to cancel the passports of its citizens who were involved with Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) if they did not return home was “likely true.”

Multiple sources told the Inquirer on Saturday that the cancellation of the passports was among the sanctions to be imposed by Beijing on Chinese Pogo workers who will not comply.

The Inquirer had obtained a copy of a notice from the Qixi Police Office in Yantai City, Shandong province, conveying the directive and warning of severe sanctions on those engaged in “overseas telecommunications scams” after Feb. 8. It did not mention the Philippines specifically, but used the term “Pogo gambling.”

A Philippine government office confirmed the English translation of the Chinese text of the notice obtained by the Inquirer.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III did not respond when asked to comment on the Chinese government’s threats and instead relayed to reporters a reaction from Ambassador Jose “Chito” Sta. Romana in Beijing.

“Hard to confirm, no news on state media, we have not been told, but given their public stand vs Pogos it’s likely true, though not to be carried out in one swoop but in stages so as not to disrupt our economy,” Sta. Romana said. “Will continue to monitor developments here.”

Accounts to be frozen

Pogos have remitted almost P12 billion to the national government since the new enterprise category was created three years ago in an effort to regulate what was once an underground activity based in various special economic zones around the country.

The police notice, dated Jan. 27 stated that “those who participated in overseas telecommunications scams and Pogo gambling, and who had taken the initiative to return to their hometowns before Feb. 8 this year, will not be blamed.”

The notice said the Pogo workers have to return by Feb. 8 and “all those involved in overseas telecommunications fraud and gambling will have their passports canceled.”

“All bank accounts and related accounts will be frozen, and all illegally acquired property will be confiscated,” it also said.

The notice said those who will not comply “will no longer enjoy medical financial subsidies” and their children would not be allowed to attend public schools.

Impact on real estate

A lawmaker who had heard about the threat said that if true, it would adversely affect 150,000 Chinese Pogo workers in the country.

“It will have an impact on the real estate industry, as thousands of square meters of office space will be empty,” the lawmaker said.

An official, speaking to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity because he did not have authority to talk on the subject, said the government has “heard” of the report circulating on the Chinese social media platform WeChat.

But the official noted that the “chatter” was about warnings from the Chinese government that it would immediately cancel the passport of any of its citizens heading to the Philippines to work for a Pogo.

The official said the chatter also noted that the Chinese government was having a “headache” due to reported crimes being committed by their citizens involved in the Pogo industry as well as crimes perpetrated against fellow Chinese.

But the official said that for now the chatter was all “anecdotal” and “unofficial.”

Abused Taiwanese

Another government source said the Chinese Embassy was? also disheartened by a report about a Taiwanese woman’s testimony to the Senate that she was forced to work in a Pogo company here and was physically and sexually abused by her employers. The embassy was also dismayed over an immigration officer’s revelation that some of his colleagues allowed the illegal entry of Chinese Pogo workers in exchange for bribes, the government source said.

An informant from one of the Pogo service providers reached by the Inquirer said they heard about the alleged warnings regarding the passport cancellations but so far, none of their workers have been affected.

The Inquirer tried to get a comment from the Chinese Embassy spokesperson but has so far not received a response.

Last year, the Chinese foreign ministry called on the Philippines to ban all online gaming involving Chinese citizens, saying that “online gambling is a most dangerous tumor in modern society.”

Duterte for setting limits

Last month, President Duterte said he wanted to limit the number of offshore gaming hubs “as it cannot be in every town and city.”

Mr. Duterte said people may benefit from Pogo employment but this must be “tempered” because of its ill effects, such as corruption.

He made the remarks when asked to comment on reports of criminal activities, such as abductions of Chinese nationals involved in online gambling.

In recent years, the Philippines witnessed a rise in offshore gaming hubs catering to Chinese online gamblers from the mainland.

The influx of Chinese nationals working in the country has also raised security concerns.

The presence of offshore gaming hubs has also jacked up prices of real estate in some areas.

—With reports from Ben O. de Vera and Daxim L. Lucas

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