Church labor group say admin’s 2021 budget ‘anti poor’

A Catholic Church labor group has accused administration lawmakers of ignoring the poor as well as the health and labor sectors in passing the 2021 budget of national government by not allocating a “sufficient amount” to cushion the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on our hard-hit countrymen.

The Church People-Solidarity Group (CPDG), an organization composed of clergymen and churchgoers advocating for the protection of workers’ rights, disclosed that several members of the House Representatives allied with President Rodrigo Duterte in approving the 2021 budget promoted social exclusion instead of social justice.

“The budget approved by Congress fails to address the needs of those who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the workers. There was very little reserved for social amelioration of retrenched workers and the poor. A huge chunk of the budget was for infrastructure, which we think, is non-priority given the pandemic,” the group said in a statement.

Duterte congressmen had ‘hurriedly’ approved on October 6 the 4.5 trillion-peso (US$93.75 billion) budget for the following year. Under Philippine law, Congress has the “power of the purse” or the authority to approve and allocate the country’s annual budget.

CPSG chairman Bishop Gerardo Alminaza revealed that Congress had intensified inequality by being anti-poor for its meager allocation to the health and labor departments.

“The 2021 national budget intensifies social exclusion because it would show that the poor who cannot afford to go to hospitals or take swab tests would die due to lack of money in the health sector,” Bishop Alminaza stressed.

The prelate branded the budget’s approval as a dire example of the Duterte administration’s ‘indifference’ to the predicaments of the poor.

“It (the 2021 budget) does not guarantee health care, especially to the poorest of the poor and those severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Alminaza pointed out.

“The budget speaks of so many things as it is an indicator of the priorities of the government or administration. It also confirms that health measures to control the coronavirus were not a priority under this administration, while only a fraction was allocated to the labor sector,” he added.

Lawmakers had allotted US$100 million each for social and health protection and for micro and small enterprises.

On the other hand, infrastructure and the military got whopping amounts US$22.91 billion and US$15.42 billion, respectively.

“There is a burgeoning budget on infrastructure amid the worst health crisis and economic decline in the country’s history,” Bishop Alminaza enthused.

He urged lawmakers to reconsider amending the budget to prioritize the more urgent needs of the people, concluding that “amid economic hardships and massive unemployment, the poor needed not only charity but also justice.”

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‘We’ll fight to the end,’ Xi Jinping tells US over West Philippine Sea dispute

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a warning saying that Beijing “will fight and fight to the end” even if America is the “number one superpower in the world.”

Amid the pandemic, the United States has been vocal against China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), promising to support Southeast Asian countries that are being bullied by Beijing.

“Any actions that focus on oneself and any efforts to engage in hegemony and bullying will simply not work. Not only will it not work, but it will be a dead end,” Xi said, chiding Washington that “unilateralism, protectionism, and egoism will never work.”

Xi stressed that the US’s “blackmail, blockades, and extreme pressure” will “get nowhere” and will “lead to a dead end,” citing that anyone who interferes in China’s territorial policy will be dealt with “head on.”

The Chinese leader boasted that China has grown to be a strong country, “so there is no reason for China to fear the US threats and suppression,” pointing out that China is ready to “fight war with war.”

In recent months, the US has increased its presence in the Indo-Pacific in response to China’s ongoing military activities in the region.

West Philippine Sea tensions to rise once PH deploys maritime militia

The ongoing dispute in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) might see an intensified non-military encounter between the Philippines and China, according to observers.

The statement came after the Philippine government bared that it will deploy militiamen to address China’s presence in the disputed waters.

Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said that fishermen recruits will be organized into militia units, but Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana noted that the government has no allotted budget for the plan.

National Institute for South China Sea Studies researcher Chen Xiangmiao sees this plan of the Philippines as a reaction to the tension that has been existing in the WPS over the past years and a move to protect Filipino fishermen.

But until the Philippines implements the said plan, China and Vietnam remain to be the only nations imposing their maritime militia in the said area.

“Only in most sensitive areas, and for safety and reciprocity reasons, there might be militia versus militia, in order to control the level of incident, but such incidents could occur more often,” Chen said.

The United States, which has been criticizing China for its illegal claims over islands in the Indo-Pacific region, said that Chinese maritime militia is Beijing’s way of playing “a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting.”

Americans angry at China over COVID-19 pandemic — Indian diplomat

Americans and the rest of the world are seeing more that China has the “dubious honor” of being public enemy number 1 of the United States, according to an Indian diplomat.

In an article published on Sunday Guardian Live, Deepak Vohra wrote that “the Chinese virus (and China itself) is a big issue in the (US) elections. It has cost people their homes, their health, their jobs, their relationships, their lives.”

“With well over 200,000 dead and several million affected, America is angry with China, seeing the pandemic as an attack on the American homeland,” Vohra added.

President Donald Trump has since been vocal in criticizing China over the COVID-19 issue, which is more intensified when reports about Beijing allegedly covering up the real story behind the pandemic surfaced.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, fired back by issuing a threat of arresting Americans living in China.

“New York has just set up a special unit to deal with hate crimes against Chinese (or Chinese-looking people), although political correctness demands that it be called the ‘Asian Hate Crime Task Force’,” said Vohra, emphasizing that it’s the first-ever task force to “exclusively investigate crimes against a single race.”

The commanding officer of the task force said that with COVID-19 emerging from China, more people are blaming the Chinese. Stewart Loo, a task force member added: “With COVID-19 and the whole anti-Asian sentiment, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling being out in the public.”

The Indian official pointed out that the current situation also led US agencies to investigate Chinese researchers in American universities who are just “concealing their active-duty status as members of the People’s Liberation Army.”

The “cold war” between China and the US also involves the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, with the US offering support to back up Asian countries that are being “bullied” by China.

US Coast Guard to deploy patrol ships in WPS to ‘destabilize’ China’s illegal activities

The United States confirmed that it’s ready to deploy Coast Guard patrol ships in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to “destabilize” and “malign” the activities of China, particularly it’s illegal island-building activity and reef reclamation in the disputed waters.

In a statement, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien accused China of “illegal” and “unregulated fishing” as well as “harassment” of fishing boats in the region.

It added that the US Coast Guard “is strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters…in the western Pacific.”

The US Sentinel class vessels will be sent out to perform maritime security operations and to help fishing boats to augment regional partners who have “limited offshore surveillance and enforcement capacity” to ensure freedom of navigation.

O’Brien added that the Coast Guard is also looking into permanently stationing its patrol ships in the American Samoa area of the South Pacific.

Apart from its continued illegal claiming of territories declared by international laws as part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, China and its military is also accused of having sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat and harassing Malaysian oil and gas development which US Defense Secretary Mark Esper dubbed as a “catalog of bad behavior.”

The US and China have been engaged in what experts call a “cold war” after US officials including US President Donald Trump criticize Beijing not just because of territorial disputes but also its alleged COVID-19 coverup.

Palace defends hiring of Chinese workers for infra projects in PH

The Chinese government should be given flexibility in hiring workers for infrastructure projects it has “100 percent” donated to the Philippines, according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Roque said that some infrastructure projects the Philippines has with China, particularly the construction of two bridges, are “donations” from Beijing and the Philippines “didn’t pay back anything” for the building of the said projects.

The Palace official stressed that these reasons explain why it’s only fitting to allow and give China a leeway in hiring Chinese workers.

“Had this been a project that we would pay for using taxpayers’ money, of course, the government would insist that aside from highly-technical positions, that Philippine labor should be employed,” said Roque.

“But the proper perspective is this is an outright grant or donation to the Philippine government… Because of that, I just appeal that we should give them some leeway,” he added.

Roque’s statement came after the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) bared in a Senate hearing that more than 30% of the workforce in two China-funded projects, the Pantaleon-Estrella Bridge and the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge, are Chinese nationals.

In response, some government officials have reacted negatively to this, adding that Filipinos should be given priority when it comes to employment, especially amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Roque simply replied: “We would appreciate it of course if the Chinese government should employ more Filipinos. But my gut feel is, because it’s 100 percent grant, the Chinese have to be given more flexibility on the decision whom to hire.”

Pangilinan: DND, AFP should tighten PH security to combat ‘soft invasion’ of China

The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should put more stringent measures against the “soft invasion” of Chinese nationals in the Philippines, Senator Francis Pangilinan said.

He added that both the DND and the AFP should investigate the number of Chinese arrivals in the country since 2017 and its national security implications.

Pangilinan also urged for the Duterte administration to look into the reported 4 million Chinese nationals who have entered the country through the “pastillas” scheme of the Bureau of Immigration.

“Where are these 4 million? Are they still here? If they are here illegally, is there an organized effort to trace them and have them deported?” the opposition senator said.

He questioned whether the concerned units of the government are pushing to track the whereabouts and the movements of the Chinese nationals in question, adding that “in the light of the West Philippine Sea conflict, the surreptitious entry of 4 million Chinese nationals is no laughing matter.”

Pangilinan suggested for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create an inter-agency task force with the DND, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Immigration (BI), and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) “to put an end to the illegal entry of Chinese nationals and other foreigners, and ensure their immediate deportation.”

He also emphasized that the continuous surge in the coronavirus cases in the country can be attributed to the Duterte administration’s refusal to ban the entry of Chinese nationals in the Philippines as early as January of this year.

After 4 years, RP-China ‘friendship’ has proven nothing

By Miguel Dygico

AFTER more than four years in power, President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to prove that the Philippines has benefited from a closer alliance with the People’s Republic of China (PRoC).

Early in his term, the former Davao City mayor had marked a dramatic shift in foreign policy when he started warming up to Beijing in exchange for billions of dollars in pledged Chinese investments. But much of that promised investment have not materialized, with projects delayed or shelved, while anti-China rhetoric is growing louder within Duterte’s own government and his critics, among them the majority of Filipino fishermen and farmers.

Among other things that showed his pro-China stance, the president also set aside our country’s territorial dispute with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea, in exchange, again, for billions of dollars that China pledged in infrastructure investments.

So on all counts, Duterte is increasingly accused of having abased himself before Beijing and gotten nothing for it.

Actually, China did launch two of the pledged infrastructure projects—a bridge and an irrigation project—but both have hit major snags that could scuttle them altogether.

Beijing has also not backed off on harassing our countrymen—both fishermen and the military—in the West Philippine Sea. So on all counts, Duterte’s conciliatory approach toward China is not shared by most of the public, who continue to view other global and regional powers more favorably.

In a July survey by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), Filipinos were found to trust the United States and Australia more than China. Notably, trust in China was worse than the same survey conducted in December last year.

Such deterioration in public sentiment against China coincided with the coronavirus pandemic—which is ravaging our economy until now—and Beijing’s continued invasive aggression in the West Philippine Sea, where the two countries have overlapping territorial claims.

The Philippines and China have for years clashed over competing claims in the resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars of global trade good pass annually and, under former President Benigno Aquino III, Manila took Beijing to court.

In 2016, shortly after Duterte took office, an international tribunal ruled that portions claimed by both countries belong to the Philippines alone. China ignored the ruling, however, and critics said Duterte did little to demand compliance from Chinese president Xi Jinping. Even as China-skeptic voices within his administration grew, Duterte stayed mostly silent, analysts noted.

Yet as a whole, remarks critical of China from Duterte’s own cabinet do not signal an imminent shift in the administration’s stance towards China.

These comments appear to be deliberate attempts to placate domestic stakeholders, such as growing parts of military and the public, that are skeptical about Duterte’s China policy.

Analysts, though, said that ties between China and the Philippines would remain stable as long as Duterte is president. But actions speak louder than words: the Duterte administration will continue to deepen economic engagement with China and to refuse to internationalize the West Philippine Sea dispute.

But with less than two years left in his six-year term, Duterte is running out of time to get the economic results he had wanted from Beijing. Despite the largely unfulfilled Chinese promises, Duterte maintains his argument that Filipinos are still “better off” in avoiding confrontation with China given the “asymmetry of power” between both countries.

If corruption remains rampant in DPWH, what is Malacañang doing about it?

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself admitted that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is ridden with corruption and no construction work begins without money changing hands.

“But what is the chief executive doing?’ administration critics asked.

While not providing the details of the irregular transactions in DPWH, Duterte added that the problems (within the agency) were serious. The former Davao City mayor pointed at “projects, project engineers, all of that, the road right-of-way (to show) that corruption there is grave.”

“No construction begins without a transaction,” he revealed.

And yet, Duterte said he did not know who were involved, but there were a lot of them.

“There are so many officials lined up in the bureaucratic maze so I don’t know which of them are involved, even those for the medicines and all,” he enthused.

Although, the chief executive called the attention of Congress to the corruption in DPWH, the agency’s top officials, who should be faced with command responsibility, are still there and ‘protected’ by the Palace.

“Nasaan ang pangako ni Digong na wawalisin niya ang korapsyon sa gobyerno?” an irate Noel Medina, a community leader in Pasig City, queried in reference to Duterte’s campaign promises when he ran for the presidency in 2016.

Senators have questioned the lump sums in the DPWH budget, as well as its massive funding for local projects compared with national infrastructure programs.

Sen. Lacson even called the proposed DPWH P667 billion budget for 2021 “mangled.”

There have also been allegations that government infrastructure projects have become a source of kickbacks or commissions that contractors pay to the project proponents.

An action star known very close to Duterte became multi-millionaire allegedly for brokering DPWH projects. He was even made to win more than P60 million in a casino reportedly to protect its operations under the Duterte administration.

A DPWH undersecretary allegedly enjoys control over big-ticket projects. A former district engineer personally requested previously by a former president to make money for him, the DPWH undersecretary is awash with cash that reportedly launders in businesses under his son’s name.

But Public Works Secretary Mark Villar enjoys Duterte’s “full trust and confidence,” according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

“Despite the corruption in the DPWH, Secretary Villar delivered. It helps that Secretary Villar’s family has more money than the DPWH,” Roque said at a press briefing.

The secretary’s father, real estate tycoon Manuel Villar, a former senator, is the richest Filipino on the Forbes’ list of billionaires for this year, with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion, or close to P280 billion.

Roque also said the President’s statement was meant to highlight the challenges in the remaining two years of his term, which included fighting corruption in government, especially in the DPWH and in Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

But critics insisted that the reason why officials in DPWH are ‘untouched’ is because they have ‘blessings’ from Malacañang.

In conclusion, Medina said that “if DPWH is corrupt, then that’s tantamount to saying that the President, too, is corrupt for condoning such midway his presidency and failing to get rid of it towards the end of his term.”

Just Juana Say: Why Filipinos should worry about PH-China exploration deal in West Philippine Sea?

Amid everything that has been happening related to the continued aggression of China in illegally claiming territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), just this week, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to lift the ban on oil exploration in the disputed waters.

The ban was imposed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 due to the possible conflicts given the ongoing territorial dispute in the WPS.

Now that Duterte has removed it, does this mean that China is given yet another opportunity to have access and take advantage of the natural resources of the Philippines? Short answer: YES.

Signed in 2018, the agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping is part of Duterte’s to-do list to continue the flourishing relationship between the two countries, despite China’s incursions in the WPS which have been harming marine life and the livelihood of Filipino fishermen.

Under the said deal, the Philippines and China will have a “cooperation agreement” through a joint oil and gas exploration to “relevant maritime areas” which Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi earlier confirmed might include parts of the WPS which is rich in oil and gas resources.

With Duterte lifting the ban, companies with Service Contracts No. 59, 72, and 75 can now resume petroleum-related activities in the WPS. Service Contract No. 59 is currently by state-run Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation. Service Contract No. 72 was awarded to London-listed company Forum Energy which covers Recto Bank, while Service Contract No. 75 is with PXP Energy Corporation, owned by Manny V. Pangilinan.

The joint exploration deal also allows China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to spearhead the oil and gas developments for Beijing’s part.

Since the deal was signed and prior to Duterte lifting the oil and gas exploration ban in the WPS, experts and lawmakers have been sounding the alarm on how this could result in China just imposing matters according to Beijing’s benefit.

In 2019, a senior analyst of US-based think tank RAND Corporation said that the joint exploration for energy resources is “probably not gonna work out” and ït will be on Beijing’s terms in anything.”

“They [China] will tell you [the Philippines] when, where, and how to do it. It’s not gonna eventually lead to more Philippine sovereignty,” said Derek Grossman of RAND Corporation.

“The costs are you are no longer stating unambiguously that this territory is that of the Philippines and that’s what is struggling to me about it,” he added.

Echoing this, Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares insisted that the joint exploration deal with China is “unconstitutional.”

“Article XII Section 2 of the Philippine Constitution requires that the Philippines fully control any exploration or utilization of our natural resources. A joint exploration with China does not grant the Philippines full control since it is a joint undertaking,” the lawmaker said.

“Any joint exploration with China therefore is unconstitutional. In fact China could very well demand more than 50% control of the exploration. China has violated our territorial sovereignty in the [West Philippine Sea]. We cannot allow it to trample our Constitution,” he added.

As to why the Duterte administration keeps on giving favors to China to take advantage of the Philippines to the extent of violating our sovereignty is something that’s been puzzling most Filipinos. What more is there hiding behind Duterte’s unreasonable fascination with Beijing?