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?

China eyes to ‘work together’ with PH in energy projects in West Philippine Sea

As if right on cue, China has expressed its interest to ‘work together’ with the Philippines in developing energy projects in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian’s statement came following the Duterte administration’s decision to lift the six-year-old moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the WPS, paving the way for the resumption of three projects, including a joint venture with China.

“China and the Philippines have reached consensus on the joint development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea and have established a cooperation mechanism for relevant consultations,” said Zhao.

“I hope and believe that the two sides will meet each other halfway, promote joint development, and continue to make positive progress,” he added.

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that he is confident that Philippine companies will not be obstructed with projects with China since “it follows that we can do our activity freely as the country that has economic rights” over the WPS.

China, however, has since ignored and neglected international laws that recognize that the WPS is rightfully owned by the Philippines.

Beijing has been aggressively and illegally claiming territories and islands in the WPS that are supposedly within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China’s illegal island-building and reef reclamation in the WPS has also significantly resulted in the destruction of marine life in the area, affecting the livelihood of Filipino fishermen.

Among the projects involved in the gas and oil exploration in the WPS is that of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corporation, who also owns DITO Telecommunity, the country’s third telco player marred with controversy over its 40-percent Chinese ownership.

Activists urge Congress to recall national budget approval for needed amendments

Amid the unnecessary drama between former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the newly-elected position holder Marinduque Rep. Lord Alan Jay Velasco, activist groups are urging the Congress to withdraw the second reading approval of the proposed 2021 national budget to allow amendments.

With over 300 signatories representing groups from the sectors of agriculture, education, health, and civil society, activists dubbed last week’s approval of the proposed national budget as “hasty, premature, and undemocratic.”

Teddy Casiño, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said that the House Bill No. 7727 or the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) should go through a period of amendments first before being approved on the third reading, adding that “the budgets of many agencies have yet to be tackled in plenary.”

The second-reading approval of the said budget, Casiño emphasized, is like effectively denying the public the opportunity to scrutinize the bill further through the respective elected representatives.

“As it is, the proposed budget appears oblivious to the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health, the economy, and the educational system,” the groups said in a statement.

“It is important therefore for our congressmen and senators to listen and act on the very urgent demands of our people to prioritize public health spending, social protection and economic stimulus, and the retooling of our educational system in the 2021 budget,” they added.

Joining the groups in the protest is the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines who called on House Speaker Velasco to show that his “never-say-die” effort to get the top post of the lower chamber is more than just for the position.

“In the past days, we cannot but watch in disgust lawmakers bickering over lucrative positions, all while our teachers struggle with printers and internet connection, studying sibling compete for gadget use, and food and education compete in the family budget,” ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio lamented.

Communist insurgency a greater threat to PH security than China’s aggression in WPS — Lorenzana

China’s aggression and illegal claiming of islands and territories in the Philippines is a situation that’s “stable” and “manageable,” Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, adding that what can be considered as a bigger threat to the security of the country is the existence of communist rebels.

Lorenzana stressed that more than the external factors, the danger lies on internal concerns, citing terrorists who have mostly established their bases in Mindanao. He added that the country should focus attention more on such issues.

The DND chief explained that the West Philippine Sea dispute is now being managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

In response, Senator Risa Hontiveros contradicted the statement of Lorenzana, saying that she was “surprised” that he considered communist insurgency as the biggest threat while police and military forces have been making it appear like it is under control.

Lorenzana himself repeatedly confirmed China’s continued illegal activities in the WPS which a Hague ruling released in 2016 identified as part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

Hontiveros hopes that the DND is also doing something to “prioritize external threats.”

Stop ‘provocative actions,’ China tells US after American warship found sailing around Paracel Islands

In the latest of the ongoing ‘cold war’ between China and the United States, a Chinese official has demanded the US to stop its “provocative actions” in the West Philippine Sea after American warship destroyer USS John McCain was spotted sailing near the Paracel Islands, a part of the disputed waters China is illegally claiming as its territory.

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theatre Command said that the actions of the USS John McCain was “dangerous.”

The command’s spokesman, Senior Colonel Zhang Nandong, accused the US of trespassing in China’s territorial waters, and urged the US to control its operations in the area.

“Beijing would take all necessary measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and security, and maintain peace and stability in the region. We urge the US side to immediately stop this kind of provocative action,” the PLA statement said.

The US-China relations have been tainted over various factors, the recent of which is US’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific sea row to back countries that have been victims of China’s bullying and aggression over disputed waters in the said region.

US President Donald Trump has also been targeting snide remarks to Beijing and Chinese President Xi Jinping over China’s alleged lies concerning COVID-19, a disease which stemmed from Wuhan City in China’s Hubei province.

Locsin, Chinese minister seek to put up ‘fast lane’ for citizens in PH and China

The Philippines and China are looking to establish a “fast lane” that would allow easy entry of Filipinos and Chinese in both borders of the respective countries for citizens classified as “urgently needed for personnel exchanges” and are involved in industries “crucial” to both nations.

The plan was one of the things discussed between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. as part of his official three-day visit in China.

The DFA said that the “fast lane” would “facilitate, with due safeguards, the movement of essential official exchanges and travel by personnel in crucial industries, such as business and trade, infrastructure, logistics, production, and technical services.”

The agency added that Locsin and Wang had a “candid and in-depth exchange on regional security concerns” including the Philippine-Chinese relations amid the pandemic.

There was no mention, however, if the meeting included a discussion on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), a maritime region declared by The Hague as under the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, but China continues to illegally claim as part of its territory.

Wang also affirmed that China will remain committed in supporting the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration.

China-backed infrastructure projects, including the construction of the Sangley Airport involving China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC), have been raising concerns from government officials emphasizing that the presence of Chinese companies involved in Beijing’s aggression in the WPS is a blow to the security and sovereignty of the Philippines.

Duterte warned vs China coal plants

Church-based groups have criticized the Duterte administration for its indifference to the call for the protection of the environment against climate change even as growing opposition doubled against the proposed construction of a 150-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Davao City and the building of another coal power plant in San Carlos City in Negros Occidental.

According to sources, both power plants are being targeted to be constructed through a partnership with Chinese firms in another show of partiality towards China by President Rodrigo Duterte. China has moved up its investments in its involvement in infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build program of the administration, which includes the building of road networks and bridges and even in mass transportation and communication.

In a statement, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), which has 92-member schools on Negros Island, and Sister Concepcion Gasang of the Missionaries of the Assumption said that both plans are “dispensable and unnecessary.”

Gasang branded fossil fuel as a “monster that will destroy” the country. “(It is a) very damaging mineral when burnt. I don’t understand why anyone would want to implement such a thing,” the nun told the Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News in Davao.

“We affirm our strong commitment to pursue the values of ecozoic living and learning. We say no to coal because it is another monster that will destroy our country,” she added.

On the other hand, CEAP said that the building of a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in San Carlos City would only harm the environment.

The group said the government should instead resort to clean and renewable sources of energy.

They also urged officials “to open channels of dialogue” with their constituents before allowing companies to build and eventually operate a coal-fired power plant.

Catholic bishops in the region earlier appealed to local authorities to reject the plant, saying it would pose a threat to the environment and to people’s health.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza called on Negros Occidental governor Bong Lacson to junk the proposal. Environmental groups also oppose the plan and accuse city authorities of going back on previous initiatives aimed at protecting citizens’ health and the environment.

Jean Lindo, convenor from the Network Opposed to Coal-Davao, says local officials should drop the plans for the power plant to be built by Aboitiz Power Corporation.

“We are known for our ‘No Smoking’ ordinance that benefited many of our residents, so why push for coal which is more deadly than tobacco?” Lindo asked.

Local officials have expressed support for the plant because of the increasing demand for power from the industry. Mindanao Business Council president Vicente Lao said Mindanao manufacturers and processing plants want more power to keep up with production. Anti-coal activists, however, say the government can always choose renewable energy to meet increased demand.

Francis Morales, another convenor from the anti-coal group, advised that “government officials and the people should move forward to discussing pro-poor and pro-people alternatives to coal. Anti-coal activists in the city are compiling scientific evidence to prove that coal is a threat to the environment and to the health of people.

With Negros Occidental being labeled as the ‘Renewable Energy Capital of the Philippines’, the Department of Energy (DoE) noted that with its renewable energy sources, the province is poised to become an entirely ‘green’ region by 2030. There are nine solar power plants, eight biomass plants, and 10 hydropower plants in the Negros region with a combined capacity of 579.43 MW.

PHL must brace itself for a total China invasion

“In a China total invasion scenario, the Philippines would have to defend itself from Chinese forces from within and from without,” Kingly Choi, a Hong Kong national and founding president of Hero Pass Limited, a trading company based in the former British colony.

“Worse, it would have to parry the onslaught of fighter jets made of super-alloys extracted by Chinese mining companies from the Philippines,” he stated.

Aside from conquest by air, the Philippines is host to more than three million Chinese workers. Bureau of Immigration data shows that from January 2016 to May 2018 alone, around 3.12 million Chinese entered the country.

Some of these Chinese workers are actually People’s Liberation Army card-bearing members. Sen. Richard Gordon observed that indeed some of the Chinese workers in the country are within the age range of military recruits.

The senator also suspected that the $160 million brought into the country by Chinese visitors from December 2019 to February 2020 may have been for the use of the “fifth column.” The term “fifth column” refers to a group of people working secretly for the enemy or an invading force.

“It is very clear that Beijing is using her Red Mafia to tap on the services of the ‘dark societies’ to infiltrate the Philippines,” Choi stated.

The term “dark societies” refers to organized crime syndicates operating in China and in countries where there are Chinese ghettos.

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose said that he is witnessing a deja vu of sorts. He recalled that before the eruption of World War II, Japanese men were working as gardeners, store-helpers, and street vendors, but the declaration of World War II unmasked them as the advance party of the invading Japanese Imperial Army, that they were really soldiers whose mission was to immerse themselves in Philippine communities and serve as spies.

“The same thing is happening now, except that China is already a major influence in all facets of Filipino life,” Jose stated.

“The invasion of the Philippines by China is not a remote possibility,” he said. “China is just next door; it could overrun our puny Armed Forces in a matter of days. What will our response be?”

“We must understand China’s compulsion to expand. It has to feed its tremendous population of a billion and a half, lift them up from famine, disunity, and colonial hangover. The Communist Party which holds the country together knows it is ringed by American bases and a hostile world. It faces many internal problems – corruption, restive minorities, this pandemic itself. There is nothing like a war to make the populace united; this is so true even in ancient times – it could very well work today for leaders who see their countries breaking up or seeking reprieve from poverty. War also makes money for those who produce weapons,” he stated.

Choi opined that China has invaded the Philippines already economically, culturally, technologically, and although not yet militarily, but already physically.

He said crucial industries like power, trade, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, electronic, construction, and real estate development in the country are already being dominated by China.

“Even in the underworld, the Philippines is already dominated by illegal drugs, illegal gambling, prostitution, money laundering operated by Chinese dark societies,” he said.

“The Philippines is like a small mouse under the paws of a tiger, and that’s a perfect illustration of how much power China enjoys over your islands, your government, and your people,” said Choi.