Philippine authorities are proving that they’re not kidding in rooting out foreign nationals working illegally for local online gambling businesses, even as the nation’s leader urges them to tread carefully.
On Tuesday, the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) announced the arrest of 15 Chinese nationals suspected of involvement in two separate illegal online gambling operations in Pampanga and Manila. All 15 individuals were in the country on tourist visas.
Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the number of Chinese workers in the country had spiked in 2017, with an estimated 22,600 Chinese nationals holding local work visas. Sandoval urged the public to contact the bureau if they saw any signs of illegal foreign labor in their area.
Tuesday’s raids followed a similar bust in Pasig City last week that resulted in the arrest of 93 Chinese nationals suspected of illegal online gambling. Several days earlier, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced a new interagency task force to root out illegal foreign workers at the country’s licensed online and land-based gambling operations.
Last week, Philippine Senator Joel Villanueva announced that the Committee on Labor, which he chairs, would launch a probe into the true scale of the local gambling industry’s involvement in importing foreign labor. Villanueva vowed to “strengthen legislation and enforcement” to ensure local workers weren’t being supplanted by illegal Chinese labor.
However, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte struck a cautionary note on Tuesday, saying there was no question that illegal Chinese workers “should be deported” while noting that there were “so many thousands of Filipinos working” in China who could face retaliation if the Philippine government got too enthusiastic in targeting Chinese nationals. As such, Duterte called on senators to take a “careful” approach in addressing the situation.
Tuesday also saw Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima take a broader approach to reining in the local gaming industry, urging the Senate Games and Amusement Committee to “re-examine and possibly revise laws regulating the operations of casino-entertainment resorts, online gaming sites and junket casinos.” De Lima warned that only strict regulatory oversight could protect the country from “money laundering, fraud, and other illegal activities.”