A young man from mainland China has been charged in Manila with "acts of lasciviousness" after three girls accused him of groping them inside a horror house at a Pasay City theme park last week.
Zhang Yang, 19, one of the estimated thousands of men shipped in to the Philippines to work in the booming online gaming industry, was investigated by police and found to have approached the teens and touched their private parts, the Philippine News Agency reported.
A police statement revealed the case had taken a twist: five policemen involved were sacked for allegedly urging the victims to agree a settlement instead of filing molestation charges. An investigation was underway to determine whether the officers received a share of the settlement money, said Metro Manila police chief Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar.
Zhang Yang is the second Chinese national to end up in jail in the Philippines recently. Fashion student Jiale Zhang - no relation to Zhang Yang - was charged with direct assault after she flung a cup of taho, a soybean drink, at a police officer who informed her that liquids could not be consumed on Philippine trains.
In a tearful public apology on Monday, Jiale Zhang, 23, said she had been "in a bad mood" and expressed remorse.
"I really admit the mistake I made and I feel so regretful," she told GMA News.
A Metro Manila police spokesperson said law enforcement officers had not seen an increase in criminal cases involving Chinese nationals.
"Only minor, isolated incidents have been noted so far," the spokesperson said.
But the arrests have drawn attention to the tensions caused by the influx of Chinese workers into the Philippines. Some residents claims Chinese are taking jobs and contributing to unwelcome inflation in the property market. Official data showed 2.3 million people in the Philippines were unemployed as of July 2018.
A senate hearing on the issue in November revealed government officials were unaware of the number of Chinese nationals working in the country - legally or illegally. Senator Joel Villanueva lashed out at officials from the Bureau of Immigration and Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) over what he said was a "glaring" discrepancy in government data.
Of the 53,311 AEPs issued by DOLE from 2016 to May 2018, 18,557 permits were granted to Chinese nationals in "administrative and supports service activities"; 10,560 in "arts, entertainment and recreation", which includes gambling, online and offline; 7,754 in "information and communication"; 4,716 in manufacturing; and 2,884 in construction.
"Your records show you are issuing few alien employment permits [AEPs] but there's a flood [of Chinese workers] and from their numbers, it's clear there are illegal workers," Villanueva told the senate session.
Zhang Yang is likely to be employed by what is known as Philippine Online Gaming Operators (POGOs) - companies that have grown rapidly since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. While he said online gaming must stop, he later said it would be better to tax online gaming firms than fight them.
Chinese workers have been lured to these companies with the promise of wages of up to 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) a month in the first year, rising to 14,000 yuan and 17,000 yuan in the second and third years.
But last year, The Beijing News published a report exposing how Chinese workers lured to the Philippines online gambling scene had their passports confiscated so they could not escape from the country; were crammed into tiny bedrooms; not allowed to have meal breaks of longer than 30 minutes; and were banned from going to the toilet for longer than 10 minutes.
POGOs have become a major driver of the Manila property market, due to the companies' willingness to pay above market rates for office space and employee accommodation.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.