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Editorial

Overstaying guests

/ 05:08 AM May 21, 2019

The issue of the growing number of illegal Chinese workers in the country, and why their proliferation seems to have gone unchecked, largely took a backseat during the election-period fiesta.

Buried in the cacophony of the closing campaign days, for instance, was a report about 87 Filipino workers rescued from inhumane conditions in an illegal Chinese-operated cigarette factory in Marilao, Bulacan. The workers were practically detained and made to do forced labor for months, in deplorable working conditions, on top of being made to manufacture fake cigarettes.

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The eight Chinese nationals arrested for the enterprise could not present any documents to prove the legitimacy of their stay in the country. How did they manage to indenture tens of Filipino workers to their illegal operations? Obviously they had help from unscrupulous Filipinos, from the recruitment and detention of the workers to the fact that the factory avoided detection by the local government for months. It took a worker who was able to sneak out of the warehouse to alert authorities, enabling the National Bureau of Investigation to raid the place and conduct a rescue. Interestingly, the workers were reported to be all from Mindanao.

Sickening and outrageous was how Sen. Joel Villanueva described the incident. “It is appalling and infuriating that in our own country, our
countrymen are being enslaved and treated like animals by illegal foreigners. This is not acceptable!” said Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor, which has launched an inquiry into the unbridled influx of Chinese nationals into the country.

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The Marilao incident shows a startling new level of impunity in terms of foreigners not just flouting Philippine immigration laws by working here without proper permits, but also operating illegal factories that violate labor regulations and subject Filipino workers to squalid conditions. It is but the latest in the growing number of documented incidents involving Chinese nationals who have either snatched up precious jobs in several industries, put up Chinese-only restaurants and other establishments in prime tourist or commercial areas in the country, or otherwise misbehaved in a manner that is causing a collective outcry among Filipinos who resent the wholesale intrusion and the sudden competition with foreigners for decent jobs, wages and even housing in their own land.

Recently, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) decried the preferential hiring of Chinese workers in the construction of the multibillion-peso Chico
River Pump Irrigation Project, which is funded by a loan from China. The CPA and the Kilusang Mayo Uno questioned the huge disparity in the payscale, with the Chinese construction workers supposedly being paid as much as P3,000 while the Filipinos get P300 a day.

Astoundingly, the National Irrigation Administration defended the hiring of so-called “highly technical and highly skilled” Chinese engineers, on the ground that they are supposedly more favored by the Chinese contractors because they make the construction work faster.

These tales of unequal and unfair hiring and working conditions in Chinese-funded projects need to be thoroughly looked into by the government, and more Senate hearings on the matter would be a good start. That such a gut issue was hardly heard about during the campaign period is a puzzle; the Duterte administration all but enjoyed a respite from public pressure to account for its seeming laxity over this ominous development. But now that the elections are over, the simmering issue of favored foreigners skirting the country’s immigration and labor laws and working in many jobs that should otherwise be available to Filipino citizens should be taken from the back burner and given renewed urgent attention.

The Senate needs to get back on track and continue its inquiry into the bureaucratic inefficiencies, misdirected policies and misplaced priorities that have enabled this sorry state of affairs. The Department of Labor and Employment has made assurances that it is working on rules to prevent foreigners from circumventing Philippine laws. But those rules were needed yesterday, and each day the government drags its feet and procrastinates on this issue enables more and more flagrant violations by overstaying guests.

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TAGS: Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, illegal Chinese workers, Inquirer editorial
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