By Lito Lorenzano
As seen on the April 2020 issue of the Philippine Tribune
This article is about the Chinese. But I am not referring to the Chinese of my ancestry, nor to the so-called Chinese-Filipino, whose appellation is as irrelevant and incongruous as Tagalog-Filipino or Bisaya-Filipino or Bol-anon Filipino. I am referring to the newfound darlings of the Deegong, the POGO-Chinese from mainland China.
For the uninitiated, POGO stands for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations, the online platform that caters mainly to the mainland Chinese — satisfying their compulsive craving for gambling. This type of online operation is illegal and prohibited in China under threat of capital punishment, something that the Chinese understand and respect. But not here in the Philippines, their base, from which they serve online Chinese gamblers offshore.
Upside — money in
Why this is so is simply pecuniary. These gaming operations annually contribute some P551 billion to the economy — and growing (P504 billion in salaries, P11 billion in office rentals and P36 billion in housing rentals).
To appreciate the magnitude of this contribution, POGO has overtaken in less than three years the take from the information technology and business processing operations estimated at P466 billion annually. Government figures report that there are now an estimated 150,000 POGO workers in the country, although Leechiu Property Consultants estimate more than three times that, which explains the mini boom in real estate rentals. You need to house these sudden influx of Chinese workers.
For a developing economy like ours, an annual injection of P500 billion is not peanuts. Considering President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist policies, this amount can very well be used toward the alleviation of poverty and expansion of social services. But there is a downside, which could cancel out the economic gains and may even exacerbate the problems it is intended to solve.
Downside — criminality
A recent Senate hearing has revealed the invasion of illegal POGO workers through our airports, facilitated by syndicates of tour operators, travel agencies and our own Bureau of Immigration (BI) with bribes called “pastillas (milk candy) payola.” As always, the Filipino ingenuity for creative criminal gimmickry come into play. The Deegong in a pique, kicked out these BI employees but spared its top honcho, Commissioner Jaime Morente, incongruously vouching for his integrity: “Morente, I love him because he was chief of police here [in Davao City]…he’s nice.”
These “smuggling of warm bodies” from China is just the tip of the iceberg. These could have been going on these past years, bloating the number of legal and illegal Chinese POGO workers in Metro Manila. The entry of POGOs don’t really create that many jobs for the Filipinos since central to these online gambling is proficiency in various Chinese language. These Chinese-speaking POGO workers are not interchangeable with Filipino workers and therefore will not substantially increase direct Filipino employment.
An adjunct to this proliferation of non-Filipino-speaking workers is their inability to blend into the local culture making them vulnerable to exploitation, especially from their own kind. Kidnapping for ransom of these highly paid workers is becoming rampant. Although mostly within their tight-knit community, this burdens Philippine law enforcement agencies, which must uphold the rule of law. Reports are trickling down that the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong triads could be the perpetrators. And with the appearance of these transnational syndicates, peripheral criminal activities are not far behind.
To serve the carnal desires of these 500,000 non-Filipino-speaking POGO workers, human trafficking for the sex trade has been on the rise. Foreign women, especially those speaking Chinese, catering to the erotic cravings of these well-paid workers are being imported — and housed in grandiose apartments in some exclusive and gated communities. This POGO-related sex market has become the new growth industry competing with the red light district on Burgos Street in Makati. From the Senate hearings conducted by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, concomitant crimes are rearing their ugly heads. Our police are being recruited to protect these sex dens. These are lucrative sidelines augmenting the policemen’s pay. Even barangay officials are now beginning to get into the act, involved in recommending good rental properties within their communities and protecting the same for whatever nefarious activities are being cooked up. This rot can’t be contained for long. In time, they will spill over towards the greater population beyond the POGO communities.
The Department of Finance declared that the POGOs failed to pay the correct taxes amounting to P21.6 billion last year, or had been able to avoid paying the correct amount with the help of the solicitor general’s opinion supporting the same.
The flood of POGO workers looking for places to stay has artificially driven real estate values, especially in the urban areas, beyond the means of the locals — driving them far from their work.
But, tragically, our government is allowing in an underclass of temporary, overpaid foreign workers who are perceived to be raucous, arrogant and disrespectful of our culture, steeped in the ethos of a gambling industry that is not even allowed in China. They are a far cry from our overseas Filipino workers, who are acclaimed the world over and whom we are proud of.
Where are you leading us?
We are all aware of the Deegong’s bromance with China. We may recall his declaration of “China, Russia and the Philippines against the world.” There is no doubt about Duterte’s sincerity in pivoting away from old ally America, veering away even farther with his unilateral abrogation of the United States-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement. We will grant him that license as truly a legitimate response against US infringement on our sovereignty — not the cancellation of a favorite senator’s US visa. We will even excuse his non-use and non-pursuance as a weapon of our triumph at the United Nations arbitral award against the nine-dash line of China that encouraged and precipitated the encroachment on our exclusive economic zone and island territories.
But, Mr. President, we Filipinos must draw the line against the welcoming of the POGOs to our shores. By these precepts, criminality and immorality are tolerated in our midst — and for what? Mendicancy! We are a poor country. But we are not that poor as to allow the dregs of Chinese society and the practices that she herself has declared illegal to be rammed down our throats.
China didn’t do this to us! You did!