Palace welcomes blacklisting clarification

Palace taking fake news spread seriously Malacañang on Wednesday welcomed the clarification made by the Chinese Embassy in Manila denying the purportedly blacklisting of the Philippines for Chinese travelers.

In a Palace press briefing, Office of the Press Secretary officer-in-charge and Undersecretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil stressed that the Philippine government agrees that tourism is a vital aspect of the bilateral relations between Manila and Beijing.

“Nakita na natin iyong paglilinaw nga ng Chinese Embassy, at nag-post na rin sila ng official statement nila sa kanilang social media accounts. We share the sentiment of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines that tourism is an important facet to our relationship,” Garafil said.

The interim OPS chief conveyed the government’s high value on Chinese tourists, who help the Philippines generate foreign tourism expenditure.

“We look forward to continuing with that relationship as we continuously welcome our friends from China, and we anticipate more of them to come in the months and years ahead,” she said.

The Palace official made the statement after the Chinese Embassy in Manila clarified that the Philippines is not included in China’s blacklist for tourism — a claim cited by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri following his meeting with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.

Allegedly, the Philippines had been blacklisted due to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators operating in the country.

“The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on Tuesday evening, without mentioning Zubiri.

Surprising turnaround

Zubiri on Wednesday said he was surprised by the “turnaround” in Chinese Ambassador Huang’s statement on alleged China’s blacklisting of the Philippines as a tourist destination.

In an interview, Zubiri stood by his earlier statement that the Philippines now is part of China’s blacklist of tourist sites due to the danger posed by the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators.

“The fault lies with the Ambassador, he mentioned blacklisting. Maybe the Ambassador made a wrong statement but we stood by our statement that the Ambassador mentioned the word ‘blacklisting’ several times,” he said.

“I was shocked by the turnaround. I was shocked by the statement of the Embassy and it’s regrettable because we have several witnesses,” he added.

Huang released a statement denouncing Zubiri’s announcement, shortly after the lawmaker made the announcement during the resumption of the Senate hearing on POGO that China placed the Philippines under its blacklist due to continued operations of offshore gaming in the country.

The Chinese Embassy also called the alleged blacklisting “misinformation.”

“The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism,” the Embassy said.

Zubiri said the Embassy should have issued a clarification instead of claiming it was “misinformation.”

“I think it should’ve just been a clarification. The way it looks like I was spreading the wrong information. It was not fake news,” he said.

Despite the “lost in translation,” the Senate chief apology will no longer be necessary on the part of the Embassy.

Blacklist system

The Chinese government created a blacklist system for tourist sites in 2020 after the number of Chinese tourists overseas getting involved in POGO-related crimes like murder, kidnapping, and prostitution soared.

In fact, the national police recorded 17 POGO-related kidnapping cases from January to September this year. This is higher compared to the 12 kidnapping cases recorded from January to December last year.

Last month, at least 175 POGOs that were illegally operating have been ordered to shut down by the Justice Department while 3,000 overstaying workers have been deported so far.

National Economic and Development Authority estimated that the POGO industry contributed P104.5 billion in revenues or 0.53 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019.

However, NEDA pointed out that the country would suffer even greater significant financial losses if China would ban Chinese travelers to the Philippines.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, likewise, favored banning POGO operations in the country, saying that its social costs outweigh the revenue.

A report by the Department of Tourism showed that 1.7 million Chinese nationals have arrived in the country in 2019.

Malacañang assured that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is closely monitoring all crimes linked to POGO activities in the country.
“Of course, the President is closely monitoring this and as far as the President is concerned ang PNP (Philippine National Police) po ang in charge dito sa usapin na ito,” Garafil said.

POGO purge
More than 20,000 local workers as well as the real estate industry were seen as the collateral damage for the banning of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations, according to the country’s largest business organization, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

It said the government should think twice in banning POGO operation in the country.

On Tuesday night, the Chinese Embassy even denied Senate President Migz Zubiri’s earlier announcement that the country is on the tourist blacklist of China, stating “The report of ‘tourist blacklist’ is misinformation. China has not placed the Philippines on its blacklist for tourism.”

PCCI chairman emeritus Sergio Luis Ortiz said that the business sector is indeed divided on the POGO banning, but what they are really concerned about is the effect on the real estate industry and Filipinos who will lose their livelihood when these POGOs stop operating.

“It is not our fault that Chinese people are going here to gamble. While it is true that China is discouraging, I am sure that there is a misunderstanding on the alleged sanction. But China, since day one, four or five years ago, they were already saying that China has been requesting that we stop it because gambling is not allowed in China,” he said.

Ortiz said eliminating POGOs can indeed hurt the economy but there should be a balance, such as eliminating the illegal and maintaining those POGOs that have pertinent licenses.

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