Teodoro: Chinese workers being watched for ‘covert’ acts
The Department of National Defense (DND) is closely monitoring Chinese workers in the country who may be involved in “covert economic and information activities” to weaken Manila’s position against Beijing amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. said on Wednesday.
Facing the Commission on Appointments (CA) for his confirmation, Teodoro noted the entry of Chinese nationals employed by Beijing’s state-owned companies tapped by the government for infrastructure projects.
Fielding questions from Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Teodoro cited the security risk posed by the presence of a large number of foreigners. He also noted that Filipinos were also losing job opportunities to foreigners.
“[Regarding] the state-owned enterprises and overt infrastructures, that’s not so much a problem because we can monitor [them] and we have default control over [them],” Teodoro told Hontiveros.
“It’s the activities that we cannot see… That’s what alarms us,” he said. “What we want to know and focus on are the covert economic activities and information activities that are not overtly happening.”
Teodoro was responding to the senator’s queries about a statement from Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela that China had been bankrolling a massive propaganda campaign to defend its unlawful presence in the West Philippine Sea, or waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Fusion of threats
Hontiveros quoted Tarriela as saying that “foreign state actors” may be funding a “disinformation campaign aimed at downplaying the aggressive behavior of the Chinese vessels’’ in the West Philippine Sea.
“I hope we are keeping tabs on those hostile state actors and doing what we can to minimize their ability to influence public opinion in the Philippines,” Hontiveros said.
In response, Teodoro said the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the DND were aware of the “fusion of external threats through internal activities,” although he added that these were still being validated by law enforcement agencies.
“The best way how to weaken a country, rather than an overt warlike function or disruption of your facilities, is really to take control of [its] internal economy, internal processes and the like,” he said. “That’s where we also need intelligence and confidential funds allotted in different agencies for us to prevent this [from happening].”
The number of Chinese nationals working in the Philippines rose during the Duterte administration as it pursued warmer ties with Beijing. Many were employed in Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos), while others did infrastructure work.
During a Senate budget hearing in October 2020, the Department of Public Works and Highways said Chinese workers comprised nearly half of the workforce for one of two China-funded bridge projects—the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge and the Binondo-Intramuros bridge in Metro Manila.
Then Undersecretary Emil Sadain explained that their work was limited to the installation of materials from China, with Filipino workers in charge of the later stages of construction.
According to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), only a fourth of the 120,000 Pogo workers were Filipino in 2020, while at least 69,000 were Chinese.
In October last year, the Department of Finance admitted in a congressional hearing that the economic benefits from Pogos had slowed down, citing problems like the rise of illegal Pogos, the entry of undocumented Chinese workers, human trafficking and unjust labor conditions.
In the same month, the government deported the first batch of Chinese workers from unlicensed Pogos. They were among an estimated 40,000 former Pogo workers affected by the closure of 175 Pogo companies in September 2022 and who were discovered to be overstaying in the country.
The Bureau of Immigration also revoked the visas of 1,424 foreigners who worked for Pogos whose licenses had been revoked by Pagcor.
Teodoro practically breezed through Wednesday’s CA hearing, with his appointment confirmed at the end of the plenary session.