Two faces of China

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

We had a very nationalistic peg in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum that coincided with the observance of our country’s 126th Independence Day anniversary last Wednesday. We had two retired Police generals who, after their respective tours of duty in the uniformed service ended, are still both actively working as public civil servants. They are, namely, retired Police Generals Secretary Ricardo De Leon, the director-general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and Undersecretary Gilberto Cruz, executive director of Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC).

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1991, De Leon rose through the ranks in the Philippine National Police (PNP) and served in various posts until his retirement in 2005. He went to academe and became president of the Marawi State University from 2005 to 2008. De Leon was the president of the Public Safety College until 2014 when PBBM appointed him NICA chief in June 2022.

The 74-year-old NICA chief is the vice chairman of the National Security Council (NSC) Secretariat on the West Philippine Sea (WPS). As such, De Leon’s agency process all intelligence materials relevant to secure our country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). De Leon explained these intelligence inputs guide our country’s policymakers to counter Beijing insistence on its historical claims under the “imaginary” nine-dash line encompassing the entire South China Sea (SCS).

De Leon cited the recent policy speech on the WPS delivered by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) during the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore. De Leon, who was part of the official delegation to Singapore, noted with pride the international audience were much impressed with PBBM policy declarations. For the first time ever, a Philippine President invoked the Treaty of Paris and the Washington Treaty as the genuine proofs of the 200-mile EEZ rights of the Philippines and not just based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

De Leon describes PBBM as an “advocate of peace” in his policy of “de-escalation” of conflicting claims between Manila and Beijing over the WPS and the SCS, respectively. “The policy of the President is to talk. We have to be rules-based, follow the international law. We have legitimate claims over the West Philippine Sea. The Bajo de Masinloc is our traditional fishing ground, which is within our EEZ,” De Leon pointed out.

De Leon underscored the dispute with China over the WPS is a “regional issue” that directly affects not only the country but its neighboring countries as well. “The WPS must have freedom of navigation. These involve Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and even Vietnam. All of them are affected. This is not just the Philippines concern only,” De Leon warned.

De Leon though note with concern the sightings of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessels going beyond the maritime boundaries. He pointed to the latest alleged “passing through” in our country’s internal waters at the straits of Basilan and in Zamboanga.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has been receiving the full cooperation of the Embassy of China in Manila, especially those involving Chinese nationals rescued as victims of abuses while working in illegal Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs). As PAOCC chief, Cruz commended the full cooperation and assistance of the embassy in arresting those engaged in illegal activities, including gambling which is outlawed in China.

Cruz reported the PAOCC have rescued thousands of victims, mostly foreign nationals led by Mandarin-speaking Chinese workers, and many of them were deported after being found working without permits from the Bureau of Immigration (BI). He disclosed many of the rescued victims were tortured for not meeting a minimum quota of P6 million a week of earnings imposed to them by their syndicate bosses like those in Bamban POGO and the latest raided POGO in Porac, Pampanga.

Cruz admitted the fight against the illegal POGO operations is a very expensive campaign. The PAOCC spends for the care of rescued POGO workers as well as paying for the airfares of all deportees to fly them back to China.

PBBM appointed Cruz in January 2023 to head the PAOCC. Cruz graduated from the Philippine National Police Academy, Class of 1986. He was formerly a member of the Dangerous Drugs Board, with the rank of Undersecretary before he was named Executive Director of the PAOCC.

Cruz has been leading the raids against suspected illegal POGOs found engaged in various online scams. Cruz disclosed some of the raided POGOs were holding temporary licenses from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor) but found to be “fronting” for Chinese Triad syndicates.

Since he took over the PAOCC, Cruz cited, they have dismantled eight POGO-related establishments, one of which was a pseudo-hospital in Pasay City where they caught three illegal practicing doctors, two of whom were Vietnamese and one Chinese, and several other foreign nationals working as nurses. The PAOCC-led raid discovered the hospital was attending only to POGO workers, some of whom were treated for gunshot wounds.

Under Philippine laws, Cruz pointed out, hospitals or clinics must immediately report to police authorities anyone treated for gun-related injury. More worrisome, he added, the same hospital also does hair transplant and other cosmetic surgery to change identity and stay here in the Philippines to avoid arrest. He suspects this after they arrested a number of these POGO workers have assumed names in their passports and ID cards. Upon checking their identities with the Interpol as well as their respective embassies, they were facing various criminal cases in their home countries.

The PAOCC chief is deeply concerned with their latest discoveries from POGOs in Porac. They found at the huge “self-contained compound” not only vaults of money but also weapons and guns, and several pieces of Chinese PLA uniforms.

Obviously, both the NICA chief and PAOCC head share the same problems of China-related national security problems.

It is not easy to face with China. Beijing follows two-tracked foreign policy. One face shows them as a “benevolent” power. The other shows a face which is not a benevolent one.

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