China to Philippines: 'Punish' casinos, POGOs illegally recruiting Chinese

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2019 01:10 PM | Updated as of Aug 08 2019 06:48 PM

Phil-Asian Gaming Expo features offshore games targeting bettors outside the Philippines. Games can be played on desktop or mobile devices. Photos taken at the SMX Convention Center. July 12, 2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- (UPDATE 2) China on Thursday urged the Philippines to "punish" casinos and offshore gaming firms that illegally employ its nationals here, as it blamed such operations for aiding crimes such as money-laundering.

Chinese law bans its citizens from engaging in "any form of gambling" including online and those that are based overseas but cater to Chinese nationals, China's embassy in Manila said in a statement.

"The Chinese side hopes and urges relevant departments of the Philippine Government to pay more attention to China's position and concerns and take concrete and effective measures to prevent and punish the Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities for their illegal employment of Chinese citizens and crack down related crimes that hurt the Chinese citizens," according to the statement.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, the country's gambling regulator, refers to such firms as POGO or Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations.

The embassy blamed unnamed "Chinese companies" and Filipino individuals for offshore gambling that targets those in the mainland, and for the illegal work being undertaken by thousands of its compatriots here. 

The embassy said offshore gaming operations in the Philippines led to increased crimes and social problems in China, and warned that it would take "actions" to prevent cross-border gambling." 

"The Ministry of Public Security of China has taken many actions and will carry out more special operations aimed at preventing and combating the cross-boarder gambling," the embassy said. 

"China will focus on investigating and cracking some major cases, including those of organizing gambling overseas and opening online gaming, and will destroy networks of criminal organizations involved in recruiting gamblers from China by overseas casinos and using the Internet to open casinos in China," it added.

Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said the embassy's call brought to the public eye a joint crackdown on crime by Chinese and Filipino authorities.

"In a sense, what is happening now is that its came out in public
there had been cooperation between the 2 sides in terms of law enforcement, in terms of tracking down particular cases and criminals," he said.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said victims of alleged crimes should file cases before Filipino authorities.

MODERN SLAVERY?

Huge amounts of Chinese funds have been "illegally" flown out of China and into the Philippines amounting to hundreds of millions of Chinese Yuan every year, "which undermines China's financial supervision and financial security," the embassy said. 

These funds were channeled to the local real estate market and other sectors, the Chinese embassy said, citing analysts. 

On the rise of gambling-related crimes and social problems in China, the embassy said "some gambling crimes and telecom fraud are closely connected, which has caused huge losses to the victims and their families."

Chinese nationals illegally working in the Philippines, whose freedoms are limited, can be considered as "modern slavery" it added. 

Some workers allegedly suffered from extortion, physical abuse and torture, the statement said.

Manila "will not allow any abuse on any foreign visitor or worker in this country from our own countrymen," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

"My suggestion to them is they should file formal complaint so that these particular concerns will be raised in the appropriate agencies of the government so we can properly respond," Panelo said when asked to comment on the Chinese Embassy statement.

"Unless there is an official complaint in reference to this, the government cannot do anything, you have to file formal complaint in particular violations of their rights," he said.

Beijing will also investigate underground banks and online payment platforms that provide a financial settlement for cross-border gambling and other crimes. It will "wipe out" domestic firms that provide technical support to cross-border gambling, according to the statement.

"The Chinese side hopes and urges relevant departments of the Philippine Government to pay more attention to China's position and concerns and take concrete and effective measures to prevent and punish the Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities for their illegal employment of Chinese citizens and crack down related crimes that hurt the Chinese citizens," it said.

The embassy decried the statement of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp vice president Jose Tria that Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGOs would be transferred to "self-contained" hubs in order to limit Chinese workers' interactions with Filipinos. 

Such a set-up may "infringe on the basic legal rights of the Chinese citizens concerned," the embassy said. 

But PAGCOR said the sites would protect workers from exposure to crimes, aside from convenience.

"When we refer to POGO hubs as self-contained communities, what we mean is that these hubs will have all the basic needs of the foreign employees of POGO... They are no longer exposed to crimes being committed against them on the streets," PAGCOR chairman Andrea Domingo said in a statement. 

"Nonetheless, they are free to go anywhere they want to without any limitation on their personal rights or liberties," she added. 

Philippine legislators have also raised the alarm over the influx of Chinese workers in POGOs prompting the government to establish an inter-agency task force to collate the total number of foreign nationals working in the sector so it can crack down on illegal workers and ensure that taxes are paid.