Hontiveros hits Chinese envoy’s veiled threat

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Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday came to the aid of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in China after Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua reportedly told Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo that China may be inclined to look at Filipino migrant workers as spies.

The Chinese envoy made the statement in response to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s concerns that Chinese manned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs near military facilities pose security threats. Panelo reportedly said that Zhao sent him a text message in which the ambassador said, “What if we also think that your overseas workers are also spying on us?”

“Ito ay maituturing na banta sa buhay at kabuhayan ng ating mga kababayang OFW sa Tsina. It is a veiled threat in response to our simple and reasonable desire to strictly regulate Chinese POGO operations in the country and ensure the country’s national security,” Hontiveros said.

“Our OFWs are not spies. They have no history of espionage. Filipinos abroad are valued both for their skill and unique blend of hard work and care. They pose no threat. In fact, in China, our workers are employed in areas that are nowhere near military and security facilities. To insinuate that they could be committing espionage is not only insulting, but plainly false,” Hontiveros added.

Hontiveros said that the country’s defense department did not accuse Chinese workers employed in POGO hubs as spies. She said that the issue was the proximity of the firms to military camps which can be exploited by unscrupulous individuals or groups to gather intelligence and undermine the country’s security.

Lorenzana said that Chinese companies are mandated by the Chinese government to assist in intelligence collection for their government.

“Foreign workers, including Chinese workers, who fully comply with our laws and respect the rights of Filipino workers are welcome in our country. We demand the same from our OFWs working in and hosted by foreign countries. However, our country also reserves the right to ensure the safety of its citizens and protection of its state secrets,” Hontiveros said.

To address this issue, Hontiveros made several recommendations:

1. A thorough review of all Chinese POGOs near military installations and camps. She said that the defense department must make a comprehensive appraisal and provide necessary proposals.

2. Stricter regulation of the POGO industry to ensure that revenues are monitored, taxes are paid and domestic facilities are not used to commit crimes.

3. Pressure on the Chinese government to commit more to work closely with the Philippine authorities in regulating the entry of illegal and undocumented Chinese workers into the country. SENATE.GOV.PH