China blacklists Philippines as tourist destination due to POGO —Zubiri
The Chinese government has included the Philippines in its blacklist for tourist destinations due to the continuous operations of offshore gaming, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Tuesday, citing Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.
“Ambassador Huang said that the Philippines now is part of a blacklist of tourist sites because they do not know if a tourist will be joining POGO operations and they don't know if their nationals who go to the Philippines will be safe from illegal activities being done by the triad, by the syndicates operating POGOs,” Zubiri said during the Senate ways and means committee hearing on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO).
“They may be kidnapped, mistaken for POGO operators. That’s the reason why there’s been a significant drop in Chinese tourists. By the way, they are the largest number of tourists pre-pandemic,” he added.
The information was relayed by the Chinese envoy when the latter paid a courtesy call on Zubiri at the Senate on Monday, the senator said.
Citing Huang, Zubiri said China wishes that the Philippine government will take action on this.
However, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who was also present in the meeting on Monday, said that he has a "different appreciation" of Huang's statement on POGO.
"Baka ang appreciation namin iba, pero definitely, ang aming pagkakaintindi ang POGO makaaapekto sa turismo natin na manggaling sa China. That's for sure," Gatchalian said in an interview with reporters.
(Maybe our appreciation of the comment is different, but definitely our understanding is POGOs will affect tourism coming from China.)
"Whether it's a restriction, a total blacklist, doon kami [magkaiba] ng appreciation pero pareho kami na itong POGO makakaapekto yan sa dami ng turista na manggagaling sa China," he added.
(Whether it's a restriction, a total blacklist, that's where we differ but we agree that POGOs will affect the number of tourists coming from China.)
At the same meeting, Zubiri said he had asked Huang's opinion on calls to either totally ban POGOs or just strictly regulate the industry.
"He said in our experience and the experience of other countries, Mr. Senate President, regulation is not the key. Hindi po siya [It is not] 100-percent effective because the illegal activity will still continue and of course, you're still aiding, we will still be aiding and abetting an illegal activity in another country," Zubiri said.
"That's what strikes me, Mr. Chairman. And I really close in on this issue and the question I would like to ask: Are we aiding and abetting an illegal activity in another country? Is our country hosting illegal activity in another country? That is a question that we must all ponder and make a decision on," he added.
Zubiri then requested to invite an officer of the Chinese Embassy to state China's official position on POGOs.
However, Senator Francis Escudero manifested that "it might be improper" to invite a representative of a foreign country to testify before any Senate inquiry as these are "purely internal matters."
"I think the statements shared by the good Senate president is enough to inform and afford the committee the opportunity to include it in its evaluation but to actually invite a representative from a foreign country with respect to an internal matter in the Philippines—because for that matter, then let's invite them too when we talk about West Philippine Sea. Let's invite them too about smuggling that most of it are coming from other countries that is also affecting the crime rate in the country," Escudero said.
Responding to this, Zubiri told the panel to request an official statement from the Chinese Embassy.
Gatchalian, who presided over the hearing, said the Chinese government's previous statements on bans on offshore gaming will suffice.
Later in the day, the Chinese Embassy denied placing the Philippines on a blacklist for tourist destinations, calling the report “misinformation.”
“The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” the embassy said in a statement sent to reporters covering the foreign affairs and diplomacy beat.
The embassy also released a statement saying that POGO-related crimes are bad for China as they are for the Philippines.
"It is therefore widely believed that social costs of POGO far outweigh its economic benefits to the Philippines in the long run and POGO should be tackled from the root so as to address the social ills in a sweeping manner," the Embassy said.
Meanwhile, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza told GMA News they are checking on the matter.
Malacañang, for its part, said it has not received any advisory regarding the matter.
“Sa totoo lang, wala pa po kaming nare-receive na advisory with respect to that blacklisting issue. Pagdating na lang po, ‘pag nabigyan kami ng kaukulang advisory, we will make a proper comment,” Office of the Press Secretary officer-in-charge Cheloy Garafil said during a press briefing.
(We have not received any advisory with respect to that blacklisting issue. We will make a proper comment once we were provided with that advisory.)
Asked if the government is worried over this matter, Garafil said she doesn’t want to speculate and she prefers to wait for the advisory before making any remark.
Meanwhile, asked if the move is unfair, Garafil said, “I don't want to comment sa isang bagay po na di pa namin po nacoconfirm.”
(I don't want to comment on something that we haven't confirmed yet.)
At the early part of the Senate hearing, NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon said China had called on several countries to prohibit offshore gaming operations but the Philippines “did not heed the call.” —With reports from Anna Felicia Bajo and Michaela del Callar/KG/RSJ/BM, GMA News