How do you solve a problem like POGOs
In this new "golden age" in Philippines-China relations, money is playing too big a role in ties between the two countries.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the controversy over Philippine offshore gaming operations or POGOs.
Two weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement complaining about how the Philippine government is not doing enough to address China's concerns about the negative effects of gambling on their citizens.
China urged the Philippine government to strengthen its efforts against "gambling-related crimes such as money-laundering, illegal employment, kidnapping, extortion, torture, murder," and to protect the rights of Chinese citizens in light of reports that they were going to be contained in "hubs."
POGOs bring in lots of revenues for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), and many Chinese POGO workers, after initially working informally, will now have their income taxes withheld, a boon for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
But money shouldn't be the dominant factor in our bilateral relations with China, nor with any country for that matter.
Good relations should be marked by friendly relations at the official and people-to-people level. This is exemplified by the good relations between the Philippines and most of our ASEAN neighbors such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Last Monday, Pagcor took the first step in addressing China's concerns by not accepting new applications for offshore gaming licenses until year-end, limiting the number of POGOs at 58.
Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo also vowed to address China's concerns on gambling-related crimes.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), which supervises the Bureau of Immigration, also took the right step by saying it would tighten up rules on the issuance of visas upon arrival to Chinese citizens, in light of China's concern over the illegal employment of its nationals in POGOs.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they would limit the maximum permissible period of stay to 30 days, blacklist overstaying aliens, ensure non-convertibility to work visas, and impose sanctions on travel agencies breaking the rules.
The two countries should also find ways to improve people-to-people ties by enhancing tourism and cultural understanding, given their language barrier. One example is how Filipinos have come to love K-pop despite not really knowing how to speak Korean.
The two countries need not look far in order to break down cultural barriers. The participation last year of Filipina singer KZ Tandingan in the Chinese singing contest "Singer 2018" went a long way in improving cultural understanding and people-to-people relations.
Her rendition of a Chinese ballad won her many fans in China, and she became an instant celebrity there for a while. She also introduced the classic OPM song "Anak" to the Chinese audience.
Perhaps it's time to have more of these cultural interactions between the Philippines and China. In this golden age of bilateral relations, focus on what's truly golden: close and friendly people-to-people ties.