Manila: The Philippine government has unleashed a crackdown against illegal immigrants, with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre warning of more arrests in the coming days.

On November 25, the Bureau of Immigration, with assistance from the police Special Action Force (SAF), raided an illegal online casino at a posh resort and recreational facility in Clark, Pampanga.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 1,240 Chinese nationals working without permits, officials said.

“This is truly a major, major blow to people who employ illegal aliens in the country,” Aguirre said.

“Expect more arrests as we have secured a search warrant to break open the locked facilities. We are sending a message to all who break any of our laws. Break it and we will go after you,” he warned.

Illegal workers are not uncommon in the Philippines which in recent years has been a major source and destination for trafficked individuals.

Aguirre said in the latest operation — the biggest foreign illegal worker haul in recent years — the arrested individuals, or those behind their entry into the Philippines, had tried to bribe officials into releasing them.

“I have been told that there have been efforts to offer as high as P200,000 (Dh14,712) per head in exchange for the release of those apprehended. But we will not be deterred! We will be uncompromising in our fight against crime and corruption,” he said.

Beijing, meanwhile, expressed concern over the arrests.

During a press conference on Monday, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Geng Shuang, said Beijing was monitoring the issue closely.

“We are highly concerned about the Philippine side’s detention of a large number of Chinese citizens. We will continue to monitor closely the development of the situation, keep in touch with the Philippine side, and urge the Philippine side to properly settle the matter without delay,” he said.

Illegal Chinese entrants form the biggest number of illegals in the Philippines.

“After learning about the incident, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines immediately sent officials to the site overnight, requiring the Philippines to properly settle the detained personnel, speed up the identity verification progress, release people who have legal identity with no delay, take concrete measures to protect the safety and provide humanitarian treatment to personnel involved, and handle the case in a timely and just manner according to law,” Geng said.

He added that some of the Chinese citizens have already been released, the others are still waiting for further verification.

“The Chinese government always requires its citizens abroad to live and work in accordance with local laws and regulations, not to participate or engage in activities that may impair their own rights and interests, such as gambling,” he said.