What can Manila really offer Beijing?

Since colonial times and, who knows, maybe even earlier, the history of the Chinese in the Philippines has been one of extortion at the hands of the authorities. Let’s combine this sweeping generalization with another, best expressed by a US congressman: that all politics is local. Both of these lenses are useful when visualizing the history of Filipino Offshore Gambling (Pogos) operators in our country.

To recap my view on the matter, whatever lofty political goals regarding Sino-Philippine relations our general managers may have, in recent years the proliferation of Pogos has created a complication that will not go away. Pogos have proven to be a boon to many industries, from local governments, to security providers (official and unofficial, shall we say), to middle and upper class homeowners, to all kinds of service providers (above ground and underground, we will also say). Whenever there is talk (ritually) of suppressing them, dire warnings are sounded about the economic consequences of such measures. Leechiu Property Consultants issued a press release on the subject: this will result in 18.9 billion pesos of rental losses on office buildings (plus 52.5 billion pesos lost annually in terms of office development contracts) and 28.6 billion pesos in housing rental losses, not to mention 9.8 billion pesos in unrealized revenue for electricity distribution companies and 11.4 billion pesos in losses for the service sector for consumption meals alone, and an additional 952 million pesos in daily expenses, not to mention 5.25 billion pesos lost in regulatory fees and 5.8 billion pesos in lost tax revenue from the Pogos – and 54 to 57 billion pesos in taxes from Pogos employees. And they learned to organize and lobby for themselves: the Association of Service Providers and Pogos said 23,000 Filipinos would lose their jobs if the Pogos left (a big difference from the 347,000 jobs claimed by Leechiu depends on the Pogos).

The Pogo sauce train means these national benefits are more than enough to turn relations around with Beijing, which has found Manila far from cooperative when it comes to its drive to suppress – crush – the Pogos who, for Beijing , are a drain on domestic wealth, and a continuing affront to state (and party, one and the same) control.

Comments about China, its economy, the ruling Communist Party, and the expected mid-October achievement of an unprecedented third term for Xi Jinping all point to what one comment describes as “an amalgam staggering from pervasive emergencies that the party is ignoring or getting worse.These range from problems in real estate, to public dissatisfaction with a relentless and tough Zero COVID-19 policy, to a crackdown on the independence of tycoons and their businesses, and to corresponding measures by the government to restrict the opportunities for its citizens to be exposed to ideas and tendencies of which it disapproves.

So when in March 2020 China imposed strict travel restrictions, which so far show little sign of lifting, compounded, in May this year, by the government’s announcement that “travel not essentials” were prohibited (which also meant obtaining passports and other travel documents would be more difficult), some observers suggested that this was not a temporary policy, but rather a policy probably permanent. At this time, the government also decided to cancel international sporting events planned for the middle of next year, which only reinforced these assumptions. At the very least, even a selective easing of restrictions allows China to take advantage of its enormous tourism potential in bilateral relations.

This is probably what is happening now. Yesterday Senate President Miguel Zubiri in a hearing said that last Monday the Chinese Ambassador informed him that the Philippines had been blacklisted as our acceptable travel destination for Chinese tourists. Ambassador Huang Xilian is believed to have told Zubiri and other senators that many mainland Chinese have died, committed suicide or ended up in jail for theft and burglary because of the Pogos, especially those here. . Zubiri, during the hearing, mentioned that the country has seen a “significant decline” in Chinese tourism, which may have less to do with an outright blacklist than with a general policy by China prohibiting its citizens to engage in foreign tourism, period. But that might have been an unnecessary dose of reality.

Officially, of course, originally the government’s perspective seemed to focus on eliminating Pogos who no longer paid dues. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla originally quantified this as follows: (September 27) 216 previously authorized Pogos with an estimate on the back of the envelope of 200 employees each, meaning 40,000 people ripe for eviction proceedings ; this appears to have subsequently been calculated more carefully (October 2) at 48,782 – the number of visas the Bureau of Immigration says it intends to cancel (the fine print? The same office says it is checking whether these people are still in the country or not). This is a sharp increase from the 2,000 Pogo workers the government originally announced it would evict.

The justice secretary is due to meet the Chinese ambassador tomorrow. An official said it was the first time the Philippine government had met with its Chinese counterparts on the issue. It could actually be defined, from a Filipino perspective, as a win-win: it could appease Beijing while sending a message to the remaining Pogos: pay or ship. But if that were the case, it would be a deaf message to China. Because, as understood and implemented by more cooperative countries like Cambodia, what China wants is active cooperation to close all Pogos, without exception. How can Remulla make meaningful gestures towards China, when the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) (in which his brother, Gilbert, sits on the board of directors, as we were reminded when he showed a marked reluctance to consider joining his brother in the Cabinet as a potential press secretary ) continues to regard the Pogos as an invaluable source of income? Without forgetting the province of Cavite (country of Remulla) in which the old Island Cove belonging to Remulla was transformed into Pogo city?

For his part, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno was more adamant, proposing the total elimination of the Pogos, based on social ills and damage to the country’s reputation, as well as declining revenues. Pagcor countered by saying the recent arrests of foreigners involved individuals unrelated to the legitimate Pogos.

E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3

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