In its eagerness to raise billions of pesos in funds for its hyped infrastructure program, the Duterte administration is brokering questionable deals with China that could threaten Philippine sovereignty. Research group IBON raised the warning in anticipation of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the Philippines.
IBON said that a number of agreements between both governments are expected to be signed during the state visit. These include China’s official development assistance (ODA) loans for Build, Build, Build infrastructure project like the Php12.2 billion New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, which will be 85% funded by China. The Duterte administration needs Php8.4 trillion for its whole term to bankroll Build, Build, Build, said the group, and is apparently counting on China to provide a substantial amount of this.
IBON said the size and value of China investments, loans and interest is not yet as extensive as those of other countries like Japan and the US, or financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB).
However, Filipinos should be particularly wary of the onerous conditions China imposes, which could result in the Philippines virtually giving up its sovereignty, said the group.
For instance, China ODA has been known to stipulate the collaterization of resources and state assets should a country default on its loan payments, noted the group. The Sri Lankan government, for instance, was forced to lease its strategic Hambantota Port for 99 years to a Chinese company when it was unable to pay back its debt to China.
IBON also noted that another lopsided condition terms of reference in China loans that require the agreement as well as the rights and obligations of both parties be put beyond the scope of Philippine laws and transparency in the public domain. China apparently prefers disputes to be settled at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).
These conditions are included in the Chico River Pump Irrigation loan agreement.
Additionally, IBON questioned the provision in the loan agreement stating that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of China.” The group expressed concern that this could mean that Chinese law will supersede Philippine law in case there is a conflict between the two.
Also of concern is the Duterte administration’s willingness to give up its territorial resources in the South China Sea to secure China investments and loans, the group said. In line with this is the administration’s efforts to be a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which supposedly gives access to coveted infrastructure investments. In exchange, the Philippines has been easing the way for China’s interests in the disputed waters.
IBON said that instead of prioritizing the attraction of one-sided foreign investments and loans for its infrastructure program, the government should put national interest and public welfare first over local and foreign big business interests. To be beneficial to the country, foreign investments and loans that are being considered should be planned in accordance with the genuine development of domestic agriculture and industries, with close monitoring and regulation by the government. ###