Malacañang on Thursday urged Chinese workers who allegedly suffered from abuse while working in the Philippines to file complaints, assuring them that the government would not tolerate the violation of their rights.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo made the assurance after the Chinese Embassy in China called on the Philippine government to punish casinos and offshore gaming firms that illegally employ its citizens.
According to the embassy, some Chinese workers had their passports taken away, while others were subjected to “extortion, physical abuse and torture, as well as other ill-treatments.”
Citing media reports, the embassy said Chinese workers suffered from “modern slavery” because of limits to their freedom.
“They should file [a] formal complaint, so that this particular concern will be raised in the appropriate agencies of the government, so we can properly respond,” Panelo said during a news briefing.
“We will not allow any violation of their rights as visitors or working nationals in this country. We certainly have the Constitution to guide government authorities in dealing with them,” he added.
Panelo, who also serves as President Rodrigo Duterte’s top legal counsel, said the government “cannot do anything” unless an official complaint is filed.
“We will not allow any abuse on any foreign visitor or worker in this country from our own countrymen — we have laws. We have always enforced the law,” he added.
In a statement, the Chinese Embassy said casinos and Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) target Chinese as their primary customers.
“A large number of Chinese citizens have been illegally recruited and hired in the Philippine gambling industry,” the embassy said.
It claimed that the employers of Philippine casinos and POGOs “do not apply necessary legal work permits for their Chinese employees.”
“Some Chinese citizens are even lured into and cheated to work illegally with only tourist visas,” the embassy added.
It also deplored the plan of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) Vice President Jose Tria that Chinese working in POGOs would be transferred to “self-contained” communities or hubs. It said this move “may infringe on the basic legal rights of the Chinese citizens.”
Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, said the Chinese ambassador and the Philippine government “should work closely with China in combatting gambling and gambling-related crimes.”
“Like the ambassador, we share his concern that online gambling will be a hotbed for money launderers and will result in more crimes,” the senator added.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said Pagcor’s plan to transfer POGOs to “self-contained” communities or “hubs” might be well-intentioned, but was not necessary.
“What we want is for POGO operators and their employees to pay the correct taxes and not devour local jobs that are exclusively for our countrymen,” he added.
“Isolating these firms and workers into hubs will not bring additional revenue for the government, nor will it solve the issue of foreigners encroaching on jobs meant for Filipino citizens,” Gatchalian said.
The embassy also warned Chinese companies or individuals in the Philippines to immediately stop their illegal activities.”
It said China would destroy networks of criminal syndicates, which “organize gambling overseas and open online gaming.”
With a reports from BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO