By Raïssa Robles
There were no publicly available records on the subject.
I contacted sources in the ethnic Chinese community. Some had estimates but no hard figures.
So I set aside the story for a while.
In the first week of August, I decided to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on the subject with the Bureau of Immigration. I asked Immigration for data that it had already released to someone else using the FOI request.
I thought, since the data had already been compiled and released, I would get it in days. Instead, it took nearly four weeks.
And even when I got it, the data were skimpy and left much to be desired.
When I wrote back asking for clarification of the data, there was no reply from Immigration.
I also wrote a letter to the Department of Labor and Employment for data on how many Chinese nationals had been granted Alien Employment Permits. The data were more complete and detailed.
Problem was, the DOLE data did not jive with the Immigration data.
The breakthrough came in late November when the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment decided to conduct a probe on the surge of Chinese nationals to Manila.
This underscores how valuable the Senate is as an institution and how important it is to elect independent-minded senators who will look after the national good.
The story was not complete, however, with just the data. I needed people to talk to me about how they felt about the influx of Chinese nationals.
At any other time, the issue is a sensitive one. The Philippines has always had a policy of restricting the number of Chinese nationals working in the country.
The issue today is even made more sensitive by the conflict in the South China Sea.
I would therefore like to thank those who trusted me with their stories. Some asked not to be named. Others agreed to let me name them: Kaisa co-founder Teresita Ang-See, historian Michael Charlston “Xiao” Chua, economist Professor and forming economic planning Secretary Solita Monsod, writer and businessman Wilson Lee-Flores and lawyer Oscar Franklin Tan.
There were more stories than could be printed. Unfortunately, there was not enough space for all.
Still, I think the two pieces convey most of what I found out.
The main story tries to dissect the numbers that the government of President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to disclose.
Why is this important? Because the country’s population—especially that of Metro Manila – would have also increased by this much. They are using the country’s public transport system, and other services.
It also makes us wonder—if over a hundred thousand Chinese nationals are working in the country with “tourist” visas, are they paying income taxes? Are they registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue? Or is the Philippine government giving all of them a free pass while it goes after alleged Filipino tax evaders?
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My second story tries to explore the tensions among Filipinos on this issue, as well as the tension between Filipinos of Chinese descent and the newly-arrived mainland workers and migrants.
One thing I found striking: most of those Filipinos I interviewed about the recent influx were careful to explain that their beef was with the new arrivals, not with the Filipino—Chinese.
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In the end, the quarrel is not between Filipinos and the Chinese from the mainland.
It is between Filipinos and the Duterte government, which has opened wide the country’s borders to a flood of foreign workers.