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‘POGOs pose security threat’

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Sunday that for security reasons, online gaming operations with Chinese workers should be relocated to areas far from military camps.

“Knowing that Chinese companies are mandated by the Chinese government to assist in intel collection for their government, it is not far fetched that individuals, likewise, could be compelled to do so,” Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana’s statement came after Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua said Filipinos working in China could also be accused of spying—a suggestion the Defense chief dismissed as “preposterous.”

Filipino workers go to China for specific work with valid Chinese visas, he said, widely dispersed and working in homes and schools that are far away from military camps.

On the other hand, Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations centers are situated in Araneta Center in Cubao Quezon City and Eastwood, “striking distance” from the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame.

The other POGO hubs are located in Resorts World in Pasay City, a stone’s throw away from the Philippine Air Force in Pasay City, and the Philippine Army headquarters in Taguig City and another in Macapagal Avenue near the Philippine Navy headquarters in Roxas Boulevard.

A POGO hub is also being eyed at a 36-hectare former resort in Kawit, Cavite that can house some 20,000 Chinese workers, just a few kilometers from the Philippine Air Force’s 15th Strike Wing and Philippine Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Sangley Point, a former US base in Cavite province.

“The POGO centers here… are very near military camps and naval bases. It could be just coincidental because these were the only facilities offered for POGO operations and I believe that the POGO workers are here just for work only,” he said.

“What I am alarmed [about] is the potential that they could be tapped for info gathering purposes,” he added. “That is why I support the relocation of the POGO centers to eco zones that are not proximate to military camps.”

Earlier, Lorenzana voiced concerns over the increasing number of Chinese in the country, saying “it’s very easy for these people to shift their activities to spying.”

Records from the Philippine National Police showed that Chinese arrivals in the Philippines reached 250,000.

Earlier, Lorenzana reacted strongly to Zhao’s statement that Filipino workers could be suspected of spying as well.

“That’s the most preposterous statement I heard in a long while. POGO workers here are not comparable to OFWs in China. POGO workers came over for a different purpose, e.g., likely just tourism, but eventually got visas to work in an activity at the POGO centers operating gambling operations which [are] prohibited in China,” Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.

Also, he pointed out that Chinese companies are mandated by their government to assist in intelligence collection and it is not far-fetched to think that individuals could be compelled to do so.

Also on Sunday, Senator Leila de Lima has urged President Rodrigo Duterte to call off the Philippine government agreements with Chinese firms to develop three strategic islands in the country to avoid security risks posed by China’s aggressive military activities in the Asia Pacific region.

She filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 93 calling for the cancellation of the planned development of Fuga, Grande and Chiquita Islands, as well as any other location of significant strategic maritime security importance, backed by China.

“No amount of guarantee of good behavior nor promise of economic gain from China would justify placing our country at risk by allowing foreign presence in strategic locations, especially by a government that has repeatedly expressed their claim over our territorial waters, as well as those of our neighboring states,” she said.

Chinese investors are reportedly targeting three strategic islands in northern Philippines to transform them into economic and tourism zones, namely: Fuga in Cagayan province, and adjacent Grande and Chiquita in Subic Bay, Zambales province.

The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority confirmed an agreement with Xiamen-based Fong Zhi Enterprise Corp. to develop a $2-billion Smart City in Fuga Island, patterned after the firm’s ongoing mega infrastructure project in Fujian province in China.

During Duterte’s visit to Beijing for the Belt and Road Initiative forum last April, GFTG Property Holdings and Sanya CEDF Sino-Philippine Investment Corp. forged a $298-million project to develop the adjacent Grande and Chiquita islands under the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

De Lima said military officials’ warning about security risks should warrant the cancellation of these agreements.

READ: POGO hubs near military facilities bared

READ: DOJ tightens up on visa rules for Sino tourists

READ: Malacañang plays down surge of Chinese workers

Topics: Delfin Lorenzana , Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations , Zhao Jianhua , China
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