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3K Chinese soldiers on ‘immersion mission’ in Philippines?

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
3K Chinese soldiers on âimmersion missionâ in Philippines?
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the committee on national defense and security, said he received information from a source that 2,000 to 3,000 PLA personnel are now in the country on “immersion missions” and for other still unknown purposes.
Geremy Pintolo / File

MANILA, Philippines — Some 3,000 members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may have entered the country as tourists or as workers in Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs), senators warned yesterday.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the committee on national defense and security, said he received information from a source that 2,000 to 3,000 PLA personnel are now in the country on “immersion missions” and for other still unknown purposes.

He, however, stressed the report has yet to be validated even as he described his source as fairly reliable.

“The intelligence community should exert extra effort to gather information in this regard,” Lacson said.

The PLA is China’s armed forces and is considered the world’s largest military force.

The senator issued the statement as the Blue Ribbon committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, starts today an inquiry into the connection of the arrival of thousands of Chinese nationals in the country – mostly through POGOs – to the entry of $470 million in cash over the past several months. Administration critics have warned that the seemingly unrestrained entry of Chinese poses security risks.

Lacson, Gordon and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier warned that China may have already
begun taking advantage of what they considered the growing security void caused by President Duterte’s termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.

Gordon has not discounted the possibility that China has been sending agents to the country, as most POGO workers are males of military age.

The senator had expressed alarm over the influx of cash, in US dollars, that he warned could be not only for money laundering purposes by criminal syndicates but could also be used to fund espionage activities, buy arms or even finance destabilization activities.

Gordon in his privilege speech on Tuesday showed pictures of Chinese nationals gobbling up rented homes in an upscale subdivision in Parañaque City, one of which even had a firing range.

He said it was impossible that Duterte is not aware of the effects of the POGOs and apparently the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) seem to be taking their cue from the “soft stance” of the President on issues involving China.

Gordon said the Bureau of Customs has long flagged the entry of huge amounts of dollar cash, but the DOF has not taken action.

“There is tolerance. I don’t know where it is coming from,” he said.

Drilon reiterated his calls for the closure of POGOs in the country, saying the country is becoming a “laundromat” for dirty money.

In an interview with dzMM, Drilon expressed dismay that the Philippines is being used by organized syndicates as a “washing machine” to wash their dirty money despite the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) that has been in place since 2001 when he was Senate president.

He said the proliferation of POGOs has set the stage for the country’s becoming labandera (laundrywoman) of dirty money.

During Tuesday’s session, Drilon urged his colleagues to examine the matter carefully and consider expressing the sentiment of the Senate that POGO operations should stop.

“All of what you have exposed in this chamber, the shenanigans of what we see here, all happened because of the policy decision to allow overseas gaming operations in our country,” Drilon pointed out, referring to Gordon’s privilege speech on illicit activities connected to the operations of POGO industry.

“This is about time that we should examine this policy. We are a policymaking body. Should we continue this policy of allowing overseas gaming in the country with all the illicit activities that come with it?” he said.

“What is happening in our country is apparently rooted in the very presence of POGOs run by the Chinese. If there were no POGOs, all of these nefarious activities would have no purpose,” he added.

NBI involved

Taking a cue from the Senate, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said it is ready to join in the investigation of money laundering and other illegal activities involving Chinese syndicates.

“As to POGO, we will continue our operations against those forms of criminality. The crimes of kidnapping or serious illegal detention are their usual schemes to demand payment of debts they owed for playing or gambling,” NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said yesterday on the sidelines of the formal NBI leadership turnover from retired director Dante Gierran to officer-in-charge Eric Distor.

He also cited the NBI’s rescue of several Chinese women from prostitution rings, operating mostly in Makati City. He said the women may have managed to enter the Philippines through the “pastillas” scheme, or by bribing immigration officials.

“Since they have big presence of foreign nationals, they cater to their fellow Chinese nationals’ physical needs. Because there is a language barrier, they bring in their own nationals to cater to the physical needs of their citizens working here,” Lavin said.

In coordination with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the AMLC, the NBI will determine if the money used by the syndicates in paying debts or in operating prostitution rings was laundered, according to Lavin.

“When you talk about money laundering, it is already a secondary crime. There has to be a primary crime, where they get the dirty money,” Lavin said.

The NBI will create a task force to investigate money laundering and other criminal activities of Chinese nationals, after an interagency consultative meeting, he said.

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay also told reporters at the turnover ceremonies that the DOJ has been working “silently” with the AMLC in tracking down money launderers. Marc Jason Cayabyab

PANFILO LACSON

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