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Investigative Reports Needed on the Influx of Foreign Workers | CMFR

Investigative Reports Needed on the Influx of Foreign Workers

President Duterte talks about the the presence of Chinese workers in the country in his speech during a PDP-Laban campaign sortie in Laguna on February 23. | Screengrab from RTVMalacanang YouTube page

A FORMER columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, who is now special envoy to China, drew flak for saying during a TV interview on March 7 that Chinese workers are better than their Filipino counterparts. The kerfuffle that ensued attracted media attention without connecting it to the concerns over the veritable deluge of foreign workers, who happen to be mostly Chinese, into the Philippines.

The comments came a week after President Duterte said during a PDP-Laban campaign rally in Laguna that the Philippines cannot deport the Chinese workers, because China might do the same to Filipinos working there.

A Senate inquiry examined the loopholes in the law that allowed “illegals” to work here, but the media did not follow these leads. On November 26, 2018, the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources found that tens of thousands of foreigners, mostly Chinese, have entered the country as tourists and later found employment (See “Reporting the Hearing on Foreign Workers: More Information Needed”).

The hearing on February 21 this year scrutinized the lapses of concerned agencies supervising the Philippine Online Gambling Operations (POGO) and the government revenue losses caused by foreign workers who do not pay taxes. Unfortunately, reports did not focus nor expand on these revelations.

Much of the media have done little to keep the issue in the public mind beyond quoting statements by government officials. They have failed to produce in-depth reports that can provide the public a better appreciation of the issues and consequences of the government policy on Chinese workers.

CMFR monitored reports from the broadsheets Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star; primetime newscasts 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5), News Night (CNN Philippines) and TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2); as well as selected news websites from February 20 to March 10, 2019.


While reports in late 2018 began to explore the entry of Chinese workers, there has been little effort to provide in-depth discussion of the subject. Most media reports took their cue from government officials, particularly President Duterte’s expressed views that it is necessary to allow Chinese workers to stay; Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s claim of a “tit-for-tat” response from China should the illegals be deported; special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo’s comments disparaging Filipino workers; and the reactions of other government officials and labor groups disputing Tulfo’s judgment.

The same can be said about the coverage of the resumption of the Senate hearings. It was practically ignored in some newscasts and newspapers. On television, only 24 Oras in its February 21 episode specifically reported the points of the inquiry.

Looking Into Other Connected Issues

The gaps in reports may be due to the lack of transparency on the part of government. The government agencies that are charged with labor and foreign workers have not been forthright in explaining what is going on.

At some point, officials had said that the Chinese were needed in the POGO industry because these jobs required fluency in the Chinese language. Why then doesn’t government process their applications for work? When asked by Sen. Joel Villanueva about the number of foreign employees hired by POGOs, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) failed to produce any data. Victor Padilla, PAGCOR’s offshore gaming senior manager, said the agency “don’t (sic) really regulate employees of POGO operators”, Rappler reported.

Clearly, as in the case of the November 2018 inquiry, the lack of government data is a glaring issue – something that most media reports failed to emphasize.

In February this year, President Duterte also referred to the need for more construction workers, when he attributed delays in government infrastructure projects to a labor shortage with so many skilled workers opting to work overseas.

News accounts by 24 Oras on March 4 and 9, and TV Patrol on March 6, reported the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) decision to limit the deployment of Filipino skilled workers abroad, so as to meet local demand. The reports brought up the issues of low salaries and job insecurity for Filipino workers, citing these as reasons why they choose to work overseas.

24 Oras raised questions in its March 4 report: How many skilled workers are still in the country? How many are needed by local construction companies? But as the report revealed, DOLE does not seem to have the data on these. Clearly, DOLE which is charged with tracking the demand and supply for labor is not prepared to respond to the problem of illegal workers. Moreover, DOLE is not equipped to explain what can be done about the influx of workers from China.

Unfortunately, the president whose pivot to China may have started the whole problem seems to have only the most banal justification for not deporting illegal Chinese workers who have flooded the country. No one seems bold enough to question his views. 

Problematic issues of Chinese investments have been documented in different parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, and countries in Africa and Latin America. Another concern is opening up patrimonial resources for the benefit of a foreign partner. While it may be too late for us to check the flow of the Chinese into the work force, journalists should still research the problems raised by Chinese investments in the world so they can more effectively report the impact of such ventures on the Philippines.

Journalists seem afraid to check exactly how much the Philippines gains or loses as Duterte courts China’s investments. At the very least, journalists should check whether the entry of these workers was a condition imposed by country’s signed agreements with Chinese President Xi Jinping.