FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2019 - 12:00am

It might seem we struck a gold mine here.

Over the past two years or so, what we call Philippine on-line gaming organizations (POGOs) sprouted all over. They drove property prices through the roof and even produced a shortage of vans. They brought thousands of Chinese nationals to work the on-line betting stations and produced a boom in restaurants catering to the Chinese expats.

The POGO boom is a product of two things: a comprehensive crackdown on gambling in the Chinese mainland and the facility of instant communications by digital means.

There are winners and losers here.

Real estate developers and those with property to lease were delirious. POGO entrepreneurs took out condos and leased houses at prices the local market could otherwise not support.

Pagcor was swamped with unplanned revenues. The DOF ordered the BIR to make sure all the expats working for the POGOs’ are properly taxed.  We expect a revenue windfall this year.

Those seeking homes are furious. A property bubble has emerged, fueled mainly by POGO demand. Prices are pushed beyond the reach of ordinary working Filipinos.

Cultural friction is to be expected, considering the POGO expats spoke no English and certainly no Filipino. People soon complained about restaurants with menus written up only in Mandarin. Neighbors called in the police when Chinese expats were unruly. Soon enough, officials we expect to be more sober, publicly speculated that POGOs could be used to spy on our military installations.

But the good/bad times might not last.

Yesterday, the Chinese embassy released excerpts from an interview with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang where he praised Cambodian Prime Minister for issuing a directive to stop issuance of licenses for on-line gaming. He expressed the hope the Philippines would go beyond just limiting issuance of new licenses for on-line gaming and ban the activity altogether.

From Beijing’s point of view, on-line gaming is considered “criminal activity.” The spokesman hoped China and the Philippines could jointly work to “further strengthen law enforcement” that will tackle criminal activities such as “on-line gambling and cyber fraud.” Such cooperation “will help create an enabling environment for the development of bilateral relations and peace and stability in the region.”

The wording of that statement suggests China intends to take up the problem of on-line gaming when President Duterte and President Xi meet in Beijing late next week.

Understandably, Beijing is concerned about the socially corrosive effects of on-line gaming as well as suppressing related crimes such as money laundering, cyber fraud and others. It is no secret casinos in the country have performed as money laundering operations for corrupt elements in China.

President Duterte may have his own laundry list of items he intends to discuss with Xi. But he will also have to prepare to deal with requests from the Chinese leader regarding the suppression of on-line gaming.


President Duterte shushed remarks made by his own security officials regarding the possible threats to national security posed by rapidly growing POGO enterprises. He correctly pointed out that in this day and age, countries rely on electronic means to gather intelligence. Very little is to be gained from using naked eyes and ears.

These officials continue to be enthralled with all those anecdotes about Japanese merchants who came to Manila to peddle stuff before the war. After the occupation happened, these merchants promptly donned their uniforms as officers of the Imperial Army.

But even if some of these anecdotes were true, they refer to the gathering of intelligence during another era. No one really expects a Chinese Army of occupation swarming into the traffic-choked National Capital Region guided through shortcuts by POGO workers. All they have to do is to turn on Waze on their Huawei phones.

More important, the more intermittent Sinophobic statements we have been hearing lately seem to be both orchestrated and contrived, meant to torpedo an increasingly fruitful bilateral relationship.

Over the past few weeks, in addition to concerns over POGO offices supposedly used to spy on our military camps, alarm has been raised over Chinese ships cruising through water we claim and marine research vessels conducting studies in nearby waters.

A few days ago, alarm was raised over the fake news that a Chinese naval vessel was parked right on Subic Bay. It turned out to be a private yacht owned by a Belgian national out on a holiday.

Some weeks ago, a grossly misleading radar map was published by another daily that suggests that Chinese ships were closing in on our waters. On closer inspection, we find out the map condensed many weeks of observation and that many of the ships plotted on that map were actually our own fishing vessels. That misleading radar map unduly alarmed people.

Pandering to the orchestrated slew of Sinophobic noise, the President’s own men responded rather awkwardly. We fired diplomatic protests over foreign ships passing nearby waters even as they enjoyed freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage under international law.

Now we want Chinese vessels, in particular, to inform us in advance when their ships intended to use the same freedom of navigation and innocent passage we are supposed to uphold. That is not the usual global practice.

The discredited opposition, including the Vice-President, are clearly behind the orchestrated Sinophobia that is leading us to practice a double standard discriminatory toward China. For instance, nobody has created the same alarmist noises about the occupation of South China Sea reefs within our EEZ by Vietnamese and Malaysian forces.

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