VACANCY. A sign at the Gateway Hub building that used to house the Great Empire Gaming and Amusement Corporation at the Subic Bay Freeport says it is now open to new tenants. The said POGO firm closed shop and sent all its 368 Chinese workers back to China in June after losing PHP106 million due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Ruben Veloria)

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT – As government officials expressed dismay over the rising number of Chinese retirees in the country, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) announced on Wednesday a further drop in the number of Chinese workers in this premier free port, particularly those employed in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry.

In an interview, SBMA chairman and administrator Wilma T. Eisma said, “As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect POGO establishments, we can expect more Chinese workers here to be repatriated".

Chinese workers employed by POGO firms here have decreased in number from 1,500 four months ago to less than 500 at present.

“The declaration of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine last March continued to affect POGO operators, thus were losing money,” Eisma said.

One of the four POGO operators here, the Great Empire Gaming and Amusement Corp., has closed shop and sent all its 368 Chinese workers back to China in June after losing PHP106 million.

Eisma revealed this situation in Subic after public officials, among them Senators Richard Gordon and Nancy Binay, noted during the recent Department of Tourism (DOT) budget hearing that a total of 27,678 foreigners from mainland China had availed of the Special Resident Retiree’s Visa (SRRV) in the Philippines.

Pointing out the number of these supposed young Chinese retirees in the country, Gordon reportedly described the situation as “dangerous” for national security.

Eisma, however, said the situation in Subic “is nothing to be alarmed about, because the number of Chinese POGO workers is trending downwards, not upwards.”

According to figures from the SBMA Business Group, about 85 percent of the Chinese workers hired by POGO firms here have been retrenched since March when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the global economy hard.

It was learned that the Great Empire Gaming and Amusement Corp. used to pay the SBMA an annual share of PHP533,700 on top of its monthly sublease fee of PHP84,000.

However, the firm reportedly lost PHP106 million in revenue, hence its closure in June.

The remaining three POGO companies likewise reported cutbacks in employment.

The Teleempire, Inc., which occupies an office building and two living quarters in this Freeport, reported a total of 409 Chinese workers last July, but this has gone down to 242 as of Sept. 28.

The Northfolk Information Technologies, Inc., which provides backroom services to a POGO operator based in Olongapo City, listed 225 Chinese employees last July but has whittled down to 100 as of Sept. 28.

Ekxinum. Inc., which used to occupy four buildings at the Cubi Area here, has now left three buildings vacant and reduced its Chinese worker complement from 231 active visa holders, with 169 on process last July, to just 42 active visa holders, with 14 on process as of Sept. 28.

The three POGO firms maintain a total of 170 Filipino workers as of Sept. 28, SBMA records indicated.

Eisma said the POGO operators in Subic are not expected to resume operations anytime soon, as even some online gaming operators in Manila that cater to the Chinese market have recently exited the Philippines. (PNA)