SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2019 - 12:00am

There’s a large vacant lot near my home that has been fenced off with metal sheets painted red. Red lanterns were later hung at the entrance, over which a large sign was installed, displaying Chinese characters with no English translation.

Initially I guessed that it might be the site of a Chinese factory, or a depot for construction equipment. Recently, however, business establishments began opening at the site. Chinese eateries! Yum-yum!

Now the place is beginning to take shape: an open-air casual dining area, similar to those found in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. You first look around to decide which dishes you want, compute the total amount and then pay at the cashier at the entrance, where you get vouchers to show to the stalls where you want the food.

Ordering can be difficult. The names of the dishes are written in Chinese characters; only a few have English translations, and only the prices are in Arabic numerals.

A group of Filipino senior citizens who tried the place said even the receipts were in Chinese. So I’m sure the operators aren’t paying taxes, and consequently they don’t give discounts either to seniors or persons with disabilities.

When I dropped by to check out the place, I saw Filipino workers in almost every stall, but translation was still difficult. The operators’ language is not Hokkien, the Chinese dialect spoken by Tsinoys, so even my mother couldn’t understand anything.

We guessed that the foreigners were speaking Mandarin, the official language of the Chinese mainland. And the owners must be part of an increasing number of people from China who are working or starting businesses here.

You see them all over Metro Manila, easily distinguishable because of their language that is alien even to the ordinary Hokkien-speaking Tsinoys. They are in the bargain centers of Divisoria and the mixed-use development enclaves in the Manila Bay reclamation area. Many work in online gaming operations, which are banned in the Chinese mainland.

As in other countries that experience an influx of foreign workers, we are hearing concerns about migrants taking away Filipino jobs.

There are also concerns over the way the foreigners manage to work in the country, coming in as tourists and then securing special work permits from the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

Is there basis for the concerns? Or is our inner racist bubbling up to the surface?

*      *      *

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development, told “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News last Monday that the special work permits cost P6,000 each, and can be issued within a week. He told us that a call to the BI office in charge of issuing the special permits revealed that for an additional P5,000 with no receipt, the permit could be issued within the day.

Villanueva had earlier cited data from the National Bureau of Investigation, showing that Chinese nationals accounted for 95 percent of foreigners – about 167 – who were arrested or charged in court for various offenses last year, with 114 of the Chinese apprehended for illegal online gambling. 

My guess is that the Chinese are recruited because they can speak Mandarin, the language of the target clients of online gaming – a skill that ordinary Filipinos and even Tsinoys don’t have.

So such Chinese can’t possibly be displacing Filipino workers. In other sectors, foreigners with special skills are allowed to work in the country.

Can foreign governments demand that their citizens be hired for blue-collar work in Philippine projects funded by their official development assistance? Villanueva told us that this is prohibited. So Chinese and other foreigners cannot be displacing Pinoy construction workers.

Yet fears continue to be expressed about foreigners taking Filipino jobs. To allay the concerns, Villanueva is pushing for legislation that will require businesses operating in the Philippines to see to it that Filipino citizens account for about 80 percent of their workforce.

*      *      *

As for Chinese entrepreneurs, as long as they secure the necessary alien residency documents and business permits, they shouldn’t be subjected to the same discrimination that Chinese migrants and naturalized Tsinoys of the past generations have suffered.

You have to hand it to the Chinese: they are an enterprising lot. They work hard, throughout much of their waking hours, and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty. That’s how the late Henry Sy Sr. and George S.K. Ty reached taipan status. It’s how their fellow migrants Lucio Tan and John Gokongwei grew their enterprises. Younger migrant Andrew Tan has the same gift. Their children have inherited their business acumen.

The younger generations of Tsinoys also have entrepreneurial savvy. Consider the phenomenal rise of Jollibee’s Tony Tan Caktiong and now Edgar “Injap” Sia II of DoubleDragon Properties.

Their businesses have provided jobs to millions of Filipinos and contributed to economic growth. Many Filipinos are aware of this, and of the success stories of the biggest Tsinoy-owned business enterprises in the country.

Being one of the world’s largest exporters of workers, and being a nation that takes pride in its hospitality, I think Pinoys understand that we should have a keen appreciation of the plight of migrant workers.

We have over 10 million Filipinos who expect civility if not kindness from foreign hosts all over the planet.

*      *      *

There are racists among Filipinos; I don’t think any country can claim to have no racist elements. And the Chinese have been among the targets of racism in our country for a long time, despite the fact that many Filipinos have varying degrees of Chinese ancestry.

For those who are not merely being racist, however, the beef is against foreigners who are breaking the law – from the shabu traffickers to tax evaders. And unfortunately for that visiting Chinese student who threw her taho breakfast at a cop on what she claimed was a bad hair day, it is seen by Pinoys as an insult that reflects a similar Chinese attitude toward the Philippines on larger geopolitical matters.

The Pinoy beef is also against those who circumvent the law by exploiting gray areas, such as those on online gaming.

But the circumvention can be possible only with the collusion of Filipino officials.

If we want our laws to be respected, we should be able to enforce them with integrity and efficiency, with public officials leading the way.

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