Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday slammed the Chinese ambassador in Manila for suggesting that overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in China could be working as spies for the Philippines.
“That’s the most preposterous statement I heard in a long time,” Lorenzana said in a statement released to the media yesterday.
The ambassador’s statement, however, came in reply to Lorenzana’s own warnings that Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO), which are typically owned by Chinese corporations, could be used to spy on Philippine military bases.
In backing a government proposal to move POGOs and their Chinese workers to self-contained hubs, Lorenzana on Friday pointed out that there are gaming operations located near Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame in Quezon City; the Philippine Army headquarters in Taguig City; and the Philippine Air Force’s headquarters in Pasay City.
The proposal, designed to minimize Chinese guest workers’ interactions with Filipinos, has been slammed by the Chinese embassy in Manila as something that may infringe on the foreigners’ rights.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Saturday that while Lorenzana’s concerns were “legitimate,” he was being “too security-conscious,” according to ABS-CBN News. He also said Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua texted him to react to Lorenzana’s statements.
“Ambassador Zhao texted me. He said, ‘What if we thought the same thing of your overseas workers [in China]? What if we thought they were spying [too]?'” Panelo said.
For Lorenzana, however, the scenario painted by Zhao was improbable, arguing that Chinese workers often arrive on tourist visas only to segue into work at POGO centers.
“Knowing that Chinese companies are mandated by the Chinese government to assist in intelligence collection for their government, it is not far-fetched that individuals, likewise, could be compelled to do so,” he argued.
OFWs, however, move to China to work in legitimate jobs using proper work visas, Lorenzana argued, saying that they “are also widely dispersed, working in homes and schools away from military camps.”
“What I am alarmed by is the potential that [Chinese workers] could be tapped for info gathering purposes. That is why I support the relocation of the POGO centers to ecozones that are not proximate to military camps,” he said.
However, Panelo, dismissed Lorenzana’s concerns in an interview today on the talk show Headstart.
“[President Rodrigo Duterte] and I were talking about it yesterday and he was saying that, ‘You know, you don’t even have to be near any military camp if you want to gather intelligence,'” Panelo said. “He (Duterte) said that considering the high tech now, even if they are far away from China, if they want to spy on us, they can. In fact, all countries, as he correctly said, are spying on each other. It’s only natural.”
In July, Duterte National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon raised the possibility that Chinese workers posed a security threat given that many of them are allegedly using fraudulent documents to work in the Philippines.
Duterte’s government is generally perceived to have pro-China policies. He said in February that he didn’t want to kick out illegal Chinese workers from the Philippines as this might also lead to the deportation of undocumented Filipinos working in China.
This line was echoed by Panelo a few days later, which prompted the Chinese embassy in Manila to issue a statement saying that it does not encourage its citizens to work illegally in any country, including the Philippines.