Written by Zihlun Huang.
In 2019, a Chinese person came to my school, Grace College, to ask for work. After he spoke with my supervisor to support him with some resources, my supervisor asked me to teach him English. However, after a week, this man ran out and disappeared. Although I have not since spoken to him, I heard that he is from China and works for a Metro Manila gambling company. He was a cook in the company—however, he ran away from the gambling company and looked for shelter. I assume that he cannot stay in the online gambling industry for some reason, so he sought our school for aid.
This is my first time noticing a gambling company in the Philippines. Unlike Macau’s gambling industry, the Philippines’ gambling industry includes online gambling companies and physical casinos. The gambling industry provides a huge amount of revenue for the Philippine government. According to a report from Rappler in 2019, an online media in the Philippines, the Philippine government received 6.4 billion pesos from the online gambling industry in 2019. Therefore, the online gambling industry plays a crucial role in contributing tax revenue for the Philippine government.
The Philippines has a long gambling industry history. In 1976, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcuse pushed the gambling industry to legalization. He also established the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to regulate the gambling industry. This policy legalized the physical gambling industry, such as Casinos and Clubs. After forty years, in 2016, the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte legalized the online gambling industry. He established the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) to regulate online gambling companies in 2016. Because of the legalization of the gambling industry, the online gambling industry became another economic opportunity for Chinese gambling industry companies to establish their business in the Philippines.
Although the gambling industry creates enormous revenue for the Philippine government, the online gambling industry is not beneficial to its society in general. This industry results in several negative effects, such as social conflict. Taking kidnapping as an example, the BBC in 2019 reported that one Taiwanese female was treated as a prisoner because the online company restricted her movement and forcer her to work all day. Eventually, she found social media to expose the online gambling industry’s sordid underbelly.
According to the Reporter, they estimate that there are 30,000 Taiwanese POGOs workers in the Philippines. These workers have some common features. Firstly, some Taiwanese POGOs workers have lower education. The online gambling industry is concerned that POGOs workers speak Mandarin because their customers come from China. Secondly, most Taiwanese POGOs workers are young people. The online gambling industry requires workers ages 18 to 30. Thirdly, most of these jobs are unskilled. This industry offers three major positions for POGOs workers, such as the IT department, financial department, and service department. Unlike the IT department, the other two departments do not require skills, which means anyone who speaks Mandarin can apply for this job.
These common features put Taiwanese POGOs workers in a disadvantaged position. For example, although they are rich, they have poor social status in local society. However, these Taiwanese POGOs workers face discrimination because they do not speak fluent English. This shows that some Taiwanese POGOs workers find it difficult to fit into local society.
Moreover, online gambling is a high-risk Taiwanese job because the Taiwan government does not allow its citizens to work in the gambling industry. While this industry is a high-risk job for Taiwanese POGOs workers, a high salary keeps attracting them to join this industry. For example, Taiwanese POGOs workers’ salary is around 40,000 NTD to 70,000 NTD, and these companies provide housing, food, and other benefits. One of my friends, Fan, is in charge of the company’s IT department. He told me, ‘I can earn a three-time salary compared to staying in Taiwan. So, why do I have to go back to Taiwan?’ The other employee said, ‘if I stay in Taiwan, I only earn 23,000 NTD per month (minimal wages in Taiwan). For me, there are no future prospects to stay in Taiwan.’
Young Taiwanese who lack job experience and lower education cannot find a good position in Taiwan. Thus, these young Taiwanese seek to work abroad. Compared to the unemployment rate, young Taiwanese have the highest unemployment rate in Taiwan. According to National Statistics, R.O.C. (Taiwan), in 2019, the youth unemployment rate, 20 to 24 years old, has a 11.8% unemployment rate. This survey shows that these youth face a difficult situation regarding job stability. Moreover, due to a lack of experience, these young jobseekers face job offers with low salary, incommensurate with their skillset, and a high living cost. Thus, more and more young Taiwanese prefer to look for work abroad.
Another 2019 survey from National Statistics, R.O.C. (Taiwan) shows that more and more young Taiwanese go to Southeast Asia to find work (43,000 Taiwanese go to Southeast Asia). This data illustrates that Taiwanese have an increasing number (from 11.6% to 16.2%) working in Southeast Asia, which is likely due to The New Southbound policy. However, these Taiwanese POGOs workers have little benefit from this policy. These workers only focus on a place where they can achieve their goals, and it is not about Southeast Asia. One of my interviewees said that “staying in Taiwan, they cannot seek their dream, which is buying a house, purchasing a car, and enjoying life.” Some Taiwanese think that the Philippines is a promised land. In the Philippines, because they are rich, they can purchase what they like.
There is a pervasive ambivalent feeling working in online gambling for Taiwanese workers. On the one hand, Taiwanese POGOs workers have to take high-risk jobs in this industry, such as working conditions, legal issues, and unsafe environments. On the other hand, they enjoy their salary, social status, and lifestyle in the Philippines. Nevertheless, after all is said and done, one thing is true—they believe that they are heading toward paradise.
Zihlun Huang is a PhD Candidate in the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, National Taiwan University. His research interests lie at the intersection of urban, migration, and economic geographies. He is currently examining the topic of urbanisation in Southeast Asia, interlinking urban development with transnational migrants and multinational corporations. Beyond academic research, He is a volunteer in a grassroots organisation and a city tour guide in Taiwan, promoting alternative urbanism in Taiwan.
This article was published as part of a special issue on Taiwan-Philippines relations, which was coordinated with help from Shun-Nan Chiang, a PhD candidate in sociology at UCSC. All articles in the special issue can be found here