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Editorial

Tit for tat?

/ 05:28 AM March 01, 2019

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is scheduled to meet today with officials from the finance, trade and justice departments, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to discuss how to deal with foreign workers in the Philippines.

As far as illegal Chinese workers are concerned, however, his hands have already been tied by his boss, President Duterte, who had ordered officials to lay off them.

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“The Chinese here, just let them work here. Just let them. Why? We have 300,000 Filipinos in China,” the President said during a campaign rally in Biñan, Laguna province, on Sunday. “That’s why I cannot just say, ‘Leave. I will deport you.’ What if the 300,000 are suddenly kicked out?”

On the same day, in Cebu City, Mr. Duterte cited an even higher figure: 400,000.

But where did the President get those numbers in the first place?

In January, Bello said there were some 300,000 jobs available to Filipinos in China, particularly for musicians, nurses, teachers, cooks, household service workers and caregivers. Might that figure be what had lodged in the President’s mind?

In 2016, the year he took over Malacañang, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said only 9,166 Filipinos workers were deployed to China. Adding those in two other Chinese territories that year—116,467 in Hong Kong and 14,088 in Macau—would give us a total of only 139,721.

A list of the 25 countries with the highest number of Filipinos posted in the Department of Foreign Affairs website says there were 229,638 Filipinos in China in 2014. The latest figures from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, on the other hand, show there were 29,691 Filipinos in China in 2013.

That number includes permanent migrants, whose stay does not depend on employment; temporary migrants such as students, trainees or businessmen and their dependents who stay for at least six months; and “irregular” migrants, those who are improperly documented or without valid work and residence permits or are overstaying.

These different figures suggest that one of the first things Bello and his high-level committee must do is to determine as accurately as they can the actual number of Filipino workers in China, as well as Chinese workers in the Philippines, if only to provide a more solid basis for both the President’s pronouncements and the policy directions to be derived from them.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s reprisal scenario was what China’s ambassador, Zhao Jianhua, had also warned him about if the Philippine government “will just deport Chinese not in accordance with the law.” Beijing will simply do the same to Filipino workers in China, he said; “that’s tit for tat.” The Chinese Embassy has, however, denied Panelo’s statement, saying it made no such threat. So did Panelo just make it all up?

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With a large number of unemployed, especially in Metro Manila, Filipinos would naturally be sensitive to any special treatment of foreign workers, particularly aliens who arrive in the country with no employment visa and are then seen to take jobs away from them. The Philippine unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent in 2018, equivalent to 2.3 million jobless Filipinos.

The research group Ibon, meanwhile, citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, said the Duterte administration created an annual average of only 81,000 jobs in 2017 and 2018, the lowest number among all the post-Marcos administrations.

What is doubly lamentable about local jobs being stolen from Filipinos by illegal aliens, whether Chinese or not, is the fact that certain government officials and agencies have abetted this situation. Immigration and labor officials told senators at a hearing last November that more than 119,000 “tourists,” mostly Chinese, skirted regulations to gain employment here. Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III said the actual number could be bigger, as 1.6 million Chinese were given tourist visas in 2018 alone. Only 18 had preemployment visas, Lagunzad said.

Government data also show that the immigration bureau has issued at least 260,000 special work permits since 2015, twice the number of alien employment permits from the Department of Labor and Employment during the same period.

China has pledged $24 billion to help fund the Duterte administration’s “Build, build, build” infrastructure program. But even before the first Chinese-funded bridge has been put up, Filipinos are seemingly already paying the price for Duterte’s submission to China—not only in the loss of jobs, but, more painfully, in his administration’s incapacity and/or unwillingness to fight for the primacy of Filipinos in their own country.

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TAGS: China, Chinese workers, DOLE, Duterte, editorial, foreign workers, illegal, Panelo, Silvestre Bello III
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