The inmates are now running the asylum, so Chinese President Xi Jinping has told President Rodrigo Duterte to close down the Philippine Online Gaming Operations (POGOs) if he wants to stanch the flow of Chinese online gamblers that have become a source of serious concern to the Philippine government.

Among the key issues confronting Philippine-Chinese relations, this may not be as prime and pivotal as the landgrab in the Spratlys, or the reported Chinese naval incursions in Philippine waters, which include the ramming and destruction of one Philippine fishing boat at Recto Bank, but Filipinos expect the two leaders to take this up when they meet in China for the fifth time this month.

It has deep moral and national security implications. Some Filipinos see this, together with the uncontrolled shipment of illegal drugs from China, as proof of a deliberate policy to corrode the moral values of Filipinos, and pave the way for an eventual Chinese takeover of the country, without firing a single shot. This sounds like pure paranoia, but it is insisted upon with damning clarity in certain circles.

As online gambling is severely punished in China, Xi’s loyal subjects have descended on our sovereign Philippine soil to indulge their addictions which Chinese law has ruthlessly suppressed at home. The result is an alarming influx of Chinese online gamblers into DU30’s POGOs to make online gambling the fastest spreading disease in the country, and Manila the new gambling mecca of the world.

One would have thought China’s draconian laws would follow offenders beyond their country’s borders, but apparently China does not mind exporting its drug and other addictions to other societies to weaken the people’s moral fabric, among other things. Thus, instead of doing what he can to regulate the entry of online gamblers-cum-cyber-hackers and money launderers into the country, Xi said this is mainly DU30’s problem.

In the last few decades since Marcos authorized the first floating casino to serve foreigners and selected Filipinos at the mouth of Manila Bay, public opposition to legal and illegal gambling has receded. Gone are the days when the proposed opening of a small joint for slot machines agitated the entire community. In the last few years, some of the spankiest casinos have opened in Manila, and not even the most vocal Church groups have raised it as a moral issue.

On his last State of the Nation Address, DU30 commended Pagcor Chairman Andrea Domingo for raising so much revenue from the casinos. By contrast, one Metro Manila congressman was laughed off by his colleagues for expressing concern that many of the Chinese transients live in barracks-type high-rise buildings in Las Piñas, Parañaque and other neighborhoods, and look like military men (People’s Liberation Army) by their build, haircut, and manner of dress, among other things.

The fact that they are concentrated suspiciously close to the nation’s military and police installations has raised some fear that they are being used by their government for intelligence and espionage purposes. This is dismissed as ridiculous nonsense by Beijing’s apologists and defenders. Beijing itself has officially responded, saying if this were true, the Philippine government could likewise be accused of using overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to spy on their host governments. Which is non-sequitur.

The wider fear is that these Chinese transients could be doing exactly what the Japanese migrants did before the last war— they worked as gardeners, drivers, handymen, etc. in many Filipino homes, then quickly metamorphosed into high-ranking military officers as soon as the invasion began.

As the Chinese online gamblers do not pose the most serious threat to Philippine-Chinese relations, it should be easy enough for DU30 to raise the matter with Xi Jinping. But if DU30 cannot do so, it would be foolish to expect them to discuss the more serious problems.
Just what are these problems?

Well, the July 12, 2016 ruling by the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, which DU30 has promised to take up with Xi on this visit after setting it aside for three years, is one. The reported routine incursions of Chinese naval vessels in Philippine waters is another. And the unresolved ramming of the Philippine fishing boat with 22 men on board by a Chinese vessel at Recto Bank on June 9, 2019 is still another.

Nothing much has been heard about the supposed investigations of the Recto Bank incident. Not even the Chinese vessel that left the 22 Filipino fishermen fighting for their lives in the waters until the Vietnamese rescue craft came has been identified. Thus we do not know whether a combatant or non-combatant vessel was involved in the incident.

In Peter Navarro’s book, Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World, there is an interesting reference to China’s civilian fishing fleet, which forms part of its sea-borne war machine. According to this book, China has 30,000 iron-hulled mechanized trawlers, each of which can carry 10 mines, and 50,000 sail-fishing craft, each of which can carry two to five sea mines.

Is there any chance the Philippine fishing boat was sunk by one of these vessels, and that the sinking was in fact no “accident”? It is time for DU30 to start asking for a direct and straightforward answer to this question.