- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - The Philippine immigration bureau says its agents, backed by troops, have arrested 324 Chinese accused of involvement in illegal online gambling and other crimes in a raid on eight hotels and other establishments in a western province.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the Chinese were arrested Monday in Puerto Princesa city in Palawan province, “where they were caught in the act of doing their illegal activities.”

Morente said Tuesday that they would be deported for violating the conditions of their stay in the Philippines and working without authorization.

The Philippines, backed by the Chinese government, has launched a crackdown on large numbers of Chinese who mostly entered the country as tourists and then worked for online gambling operations, which are illegal in China.

“Initial reports indicate that most of these aliens are overstaying and undocumented,” Morente said in a statement.



The raiding teams seized hundreds of laptops and cellphones from the Chinese, many of whom failed to show passports or other travel documents, immigration officials said.

Immigration intelligence official Fortunato Manahan Jr. said the raids were an offshoot of complaints from local officials over the presence of many illegal Chinese workers in Puerto Princesa. Authorities conducted weeks of surveillance before Monday’s raids.

Palawan is a frontier island province where the military’s Western Command conducts naval and air patrols to defend Philippine-claimed areas in the disputed South China Sea. China, the Philippines and four other governments have overlapping territorial claims in the strategic waterways.

Philippine defense officials recently expressed concern over the presence of large numbers of Chinese near local military camps.

Morente said there would be no letup in the immigration bureau’s campaign against the illegal foreign workers “who use the Philippines as a venue for illegal activities, particularly unauthorized online gaming activities, cyber fraud and investment scams that prey on unsuspecting victims who are mostly abroad.”

Last week, Philippine immigration agents arrested 277 Chinese in a raid on an online investment scam syndicate that defrauded hundreds of people in China.

The arrests Wednesday in the Ortigas financial district in Pasig city in the Manila metropolis came after the Chinese Embassy provided information about the fraud, Morente said.

Last month, the Chinese Embassy said many Chinese have been illegally recruited to work in the gambling industry in the Philippines, often without work permits. The online gambling operations cater mostly to Chinese in mainland China.

The embassy said Chinese money was flowing illegally into the Philippines involving crimes such as money laundering and that many Chinese recruited to work in the online gambling operations were confined, physically abused and had their passports taken.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has stopped issuing licenses to offshore gambling operations while contracts and security and legal issues are reviewed. The gambling regulator said the Philippine government collected nearly 12 billion pesos ($235 million) in revenues from the operations from 2016 to last year.

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