More illegal Chinese workers in Philippines

Activists protesting against the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping near the Chinese Embassy in Manila last Wednesday.
Activists protesting against the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping near the Chinese Embassy in Manila last Wednesday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

They are stealing jobs and raising property prices, claim senators

President Rodrigo Duterte's rapprochement with China, driven in most part by economic reasons, has unwittingly led to a huge influx of undocumented Chinese workers over the past two years.

They have been accused of not only elbowing Filipinos out of lucrative jobs but also jacking up property prices.

Labour officials and senior diplomats attending a Senate hearing yesterday admitted that at least 150,000 Chinese in the offshore gaming industry could be working without permits, but one senior lawmaker has suggested that the actual number may be double that.

The Labour Department issued 115,652 Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) from 2015 to last year. About 51,980 went to Chinese workers.

"We observe that there is indeed an upward trend in the issuance of AEPs," Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad told the Senate.

Some senators believe, however, that the latest numbers do not line up with facts on the ground.

"You go to shopping malls, condominiums. You'd think you were in China. I believe there are more than 200,000 (Chinese workers) here now... They are not just in gaming. They're also in restaurants, construction, mining," said Senator Joel Villanueva, head of the Senate committee leading an investigation into the issue.

  • KEY NUMBERS

  • 115,652 - Number of Alien Employment Permits (AEPs) issued by the Labour Department from 2015-2017.

    51,980 - Number of AEPs that went to workers from China.

    200,000-400,000 - Estimated number of Chinese working in offshore gaming operators and outsourcing firms.

    62%  - Rise in condo rentals in the Manila Bay area, home to three big casinos, in the first six months of 2018 as Chinese companies snap up office and residential space.

Senator Franklin Drilon, a former labour secretary, said there could be as many as 400,000 Chinese working for gaming operators and other outsourcing companies that mostly service clients in China.

Nearly 2,000 illegal Chinese workers have been apprehended in the Philippines over the past two years.

The biggest haul was in 2016, when 1,200 Chinese employees of a gaming firm inside the Clark special economic zone in Pampanga province, an hour north of the capital, Manila, were rounded up.

In May last year, nine Chinese and an Indonesian were nabbed for operating dredging vessels and hauling black sand without permits.

That same year, in September, 34 Chinese were arrested at an online gaming company in Pasay city, south of Manila.

A Chinese chef was pilloried online in May after he was seen in a video beating up a Filipino waitress at his restaurant. Investigations showed that he did not have a work permit and could not even produce a passport.

Last week, 93 Chinese were arrested from another online gambling outfit, in Pasig city, east of Manila.

"We have so many of our countrymen looking for jobs abroad. When they leave, they are abused. Yet, there are jobs here that seem to be handed over to other nationals... Our workers shouldn't be robbed of jobs," said Mr Villanueva.

The large number of Chinese migrants has also led to spiralling property prices.

"With so many of them coming here, they are not just robbing Filipinos of jobs, but they're also taking away our homes," said Mr Villanueva. He cited a Facebook post that went viral here about a real estate agent looking for 400 condo units for 3,000 Chinese workers.

Condo rentals at the prime Manila Bay area, where many of the casinos and online gaming companies are headquartered, have risen by as much as 62 per cent in the first six months of the year. Property prices there now range from 45,700 pesos (S$1,200) to 76,200 pesos per sq ft.

Chinese buyers made up almost 30 per cent of residential reservation sales at SM Prime, the country's largest property developer, in the first quarter of last year.

Similarly, the share of Chinese nationals who bought homes from Ayala Land, another real estate giant, jumped to almost half of all sales to foreign buyers, last year. The figure was 30 per cent in 2016.

The Chinese migration has been sparked by Mr Duterte's push to have closer ties with Beijing.

He has pivoted towards Beijing since winning the presidency in 2016 as he courted Chinese investments to push Philippine growth through an ambitious US$169 billion (S$232 billion) infrastructure-building programme.

Chinese offshore gaming firms have particularly benefited from this rapprochement. They have set up operations in the Philippines to skirt tougher regulations on gambling in China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'More illegal Chinese workers in Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe