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DND chief hits China envoy’s view on Pogos

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday described as preposterous China’s suggestion of tit for tat over Filipino officials’ concern that the influx of Chinese online gaming workers into the Philippines could pose a security threat to the country.

Lorenzana and other security officials in recent days had been pointing out the development of so-called Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogo) hubs on strategic spots and near military and police camps as possible security threats.

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The defense chief had recommended that the Pogo hubs be moved away from camps and built where immigration and finance authorities could monitor them.

‘Too security-conscious’

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Malacañang acknowledged the validity of the security officials’ worries, but presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Saturday raised what he believed was a problem with the Philippine side.

“Maybe the problem is we are too security-conscious,” Panelo said.

Then he disclosed a text message from Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua: “What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us? What can you say about that?”

Panelo said Zhao’s point was that Filipinos should not think that Chinese workers here were spies.

“That’s the most preposterous statement I heard in a long while,” Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday, pointing out a huge difference between Filipino migrant workers in China and Chinese workers in Pogos.

“Pogo workers here are not comparable to [Filipino workers] in China. Pogo workers came over for a different purpose, e.g., likely just tourism, but eventually got visas to work in an activity at the Pogo centers operating gambling operations, which [are] prohibited in China,” Lorenzana said.

No Filipino Pogos in China

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“[Filipino workers in China] are more like Chinese workers here in the Philippines in construction projects mutually agreed upon by both countries. There are no Pogo-like centers in China operated purely by Filipinos near Chinese military camps,” he said.

Filipino workers in China are widely dispersed—in homes and schools away from military camps—but Pogo centers in the Philippines are “very near military camps and naval bases,” he added.

“It could be coincidental, because these were the only facilities offered for Pogo operations and I believe that the Pogo workers are here only just for work,” Lorenzana said.

“What I am alarmed [about] is the potential that they could be tapped for information-gathering purposes,” he said.

Lorenzana cited information that the Chinese government required Chinese companies to cooperate with it in intelligence collection.

“It is not farfetched that individuals likewise could be compelled to do so,” Lorenzana said.

He said he supported suggestions that the Pogos be moved to economic zones that were far from military camps.

That strategy, he said, would also make it easy for the government to monitor the Pogo hubs.

Speaking for China

In a radio interview on Sunday, Panelo said Zhao was just expressing his opinion and that Malacañang would not oppose plans to build Pogo centers in certain places as long the rights of the Chinese workers would not be infringed.

“If it would help provide protection [for the Chinese workers], then we have no objection,” Panelo said.

His transmission of the supposed comment from Zhao and his defense of it did not sound right to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

“Has the presidential spokesman switched from Chinese Embassy defense counsel to spokesman?” Lacson said in a Viber message to reporters on Sunday.

Lacson said the issue was not about the welfare of Filipino workers in China, but Panelo’s taking on the job of spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy.

“The thing is, the Chinese Embassy has its own spokesman who should speak on their behalf because that’s his job. Why should the country’s presidential spokesperson, whose salary and other miscellaneous expenses are being paid out of our taxes, take on the embassy spokesman’s job?” Lacson said.

In a statement, Panelo replied that he was not speaking on behalf of the Chinese Embassy.

He said there was nothing wrong in his sharing Zhao’s text message, which he did to provide context to his response to a reporter’s question about Lorenzana’s concerns about the Pogo hubs.

He said it was his duty as presidential spokesperson to share with the public information that was “germane to a national issue or concern.”

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TAGS: Chinese workers, Delfin Lorenzana, OFWs, POGOs, Salvador Padilla, Spying, Zhao Jianhua
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