By Perry Diaz
On February 27, a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (Pogo) Chinese worker was murdered, and his companion wounded, in an apparent money exchange deal that went wrong. Two suspects were arrested and have been charged with murder. A third suspect got away. Three firearms – one 9mm and two .45-caliber – were recovered from the suspects.
Identification found on the two suspects showed that they were People’s Liberation Army (PLA) members. But further investigations turned out the IDs were fake. According to the Makati Police chief, the suspects are not PLA members. “We retrieved PLA IDs, but the names and photos did not match.” However, that did not prove they are not PLA members either.
This led Sen. Richard Gordon to speculate that members of China’s PLA have infiltrated Pogos for intelligence gathering in the country. He said that there might be as many as 200,000 Chinese nationals working in Pogos, many of whom might be spying for China.
He warned that more than $160 million brought into the country by Chinese visitors from December through February may not only be laundered but also used to fund a “fifth column,” a term used to refer to a group of people working secretly for the enemy.
Gordon said that the Chinese PLA IDs found with the suspects should be investigated, noting that some of the Chinese workers in the country were in the age range of army recruits. Telltale signs are their short haircuts and body builds resembling those of soldiers.
This brings back reports made in August 2019 that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had raised concerns over the location of Pogos, which appeared to be “too close for comfort” to military camps in Metro Manila.
The military installations near the Pogos included Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, the Air Force headquarters in Pasay City, the Philippine Army headquarters in Taguig City, and the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard.
Currently, Island Cove, a 36-hectare former resort in Kawit, Cavite is being transformed into a Pogo hub that can accommodate up to 20,000 Chinese workers. The site is just three kilometers from a facility being used by the Philippine Air Force’s 15th Strike Wing and Philippine naval base Heracleo Alano in Sangley Point. The fact that Chinese workers are living in hubs close to military bases is of great concern to Philippine defense officials.
But China is concerned that the “self-contained hubs” might violate the Chinese nationals’ rights. However, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and CEO Andrea Domingo disagreed, saying, “The hubs are, in fact, being established for the protection of the foreign workers.” She said the concern that the Chinese workers would be herded into the Pogo hubs and exploited there were baseless. Indeed, the Pogo hubs are like “little Chinatowns” complete with office and residential spaces, restaurants, health and recreational centers, service shops and other amenities.
“They will be regulated by authorities and checked for compliance with welfare standards. There is no need to be going to other places just for some of their needs. They will have government offices to ensure full compliance with immigration, labor, and tax regulations. They are no longer exposed to crimes being committed against them on the streets, they are assured of good working conditions and decent living quarters, and will be given their proper visas as there will also be other relevant government agencies setting up offices at the hubs. They’re free to go anywhere they want without any limitation on their personal rights or liberties,” Domingo said.
Indeed, life in a Pogo hub is like living in Shangri-La – no hustle, no bustle. But make no mistake; “Big Brother” in Beijing would be watching them from CCTVs all over the place.
But the drawback is that Pogo hubs offer a safe haven for spies, which is not good for the Philippine authorities. They operate freely unimpeded by Philippine intelligence personnel who would stick like sore thumbs in the midst of an all-Chinese self-contained development community.
Currently, the Pogos employ about 130,000 Chinese workers. By comparison, the estimated number of Chinese nationals who are already in the Philippines is 250,000, which is nearly the same as the number of Philippine military personnel. The question is: How many of the Pogo Chinese workers are spies or members of the PLA? While it may sound preposterous, it would be prudent to be on the lookout for the sake of national security.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said the presence of PLA members in the country “should be a cause for concern.” “That may confirm a yet-to-be validated report that a good number of PLA members are on immersion mission in several parts of the country although the reason for it is still unclear,” Lacson said. Lacson said that he received “raw data” of 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese PLA soldiers who may already have infiltrated the Philippines. He suspects that they are posing as Pogo workers or tourists on an “immersion mission.”
But an intelligence officer disputed that. “There is no such thing as immersion mission. That is a pre-World War II concept. Immersion means forward-deploying your soldiers to a country that you intend to invade later.” Well, isn’t that precisely what we’re talking about here? At any rate, the intelligence officer said that thousands of spies are not in the realm of possibility. However, he said that it would be prudent for China to send a small number of around 300 spies to other countries.
In my column, “China’s Colonization of the Philippines”(January 2017),I said: “According to a reliable source in Manila, most of the Chinoys (short for Chinese-Filipinos) are patriotic and loyal to the Philippine flag. However, some of them are believed to be pro-China “sleepers” ready to act when called upon by their PLA handlers. Some of them are sons of rich taipans who sent them to China to study. Allegedly, some of them took PLA officer’s training. It is also alleged that units of the PLA have already infiltrated the country posing as foreign workers.
“It is interesting to note that prior to the outbreak of World War II, thousands of Japanese nationals were working in the Philippines. Many of them were sleepers and once war broke out, they put on their military uniforms and joined the invading Japanese forces.”
According to my source, the Chinese have smuggled arms and ammunition to the Philippines and were stored in secret warehouses. With the large number of Chinese Pogo workers, what does it take to mobilize them in the event the decision is made in Beijing to invade the Philippines? Not much. All they have to do is don their PLA uniforms and retrieve their weapons from storage. And since most of them are living in hubs, they don’t have to get very far in time to regroup or mobilize.
With the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in its six-month terminal phase, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are virtually non-implementable, simply because the 1987 Constitution bans foreign troops from being deployed to the Philippines.
While nobody knows what impact the VFA abrogation has on the Philippines’ security, it changes the defense calculus of the country. But surmise it to say, the presence of Chinese spies acting as Pogo workers poses the greatest risk to the country’s sovereignty and security. It behooves the government to do something to vigilantly monitor the Pogo workers’ movements. The proposal to build Pogo hubs seems like it is the best way to prevent Pogo workers from moving freely around and keeping them away from military bases. They’re boxed in an area known to authorities.