Villar allays concerns on China funding for infrastructure projects
Richmond Mercurio, Czeriza Valencia (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar assured the public that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will have a minimal impact on China-funded infrastructure projects in the country.

“If ever there is an effect, minimal. But so far, I don’t see any major effects,” he said.

The Philippines banned on Feb. 11 the entry of foreigners from China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Only Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders are allowed to enter the country from the said areas. Filipinos, on the other hand, are temporarily barred from traveling to these countries.

With the travel ban, technical staff, architects or engineers from China who may be needed for the China-funded projects are restricted from coming to the country.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said recently, though, that the prevailing outbreak may slow down the processing of official development assistance (ODA) from China as fewer meetings would be held owing to the travel restrictions.

Both the Philippine and Chinese governments have recognized the need to conduct regular meetings to accelerate the processing of infrastructure projects for ODA funding.

“We admitted that we need to meet, to have regular meetings but it would be difficult right now because we cannot go to China,” said Pernia.

Pernia also noted that China’s dollar shortage may affect the processing of ODA loans for the Philippines.

China is also in the thick of responding to the immediate impact of the spread of COVID-19 on its economy at the moment.

So far, only two major projects under the government’s Build Build Build program have obtained ODA funding from China: the Chico River Dam Irrigation project and the Kaliwa Dam project.

Two projects across the Pasig River funded by Chinese grants, however, are “still ongoing with no major issues,” said Villar.

“The projects are doing well. I don’t see any major effects. So far, works on these projects are continuing,” he said.

Villar said timelines for the Binondo-Intramuros bridge and the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge, which both broke ground in 2018, remain the same.

The two projects, which are funded by China through a grant under a bilateral cooperation agreement with the Philippine government, are scheduled for completion next year.

The 506.46-meter Estrella-Pantaleon bridge will connect Estrella street in Makati and Barangka Drive in Mandaluyong City, while the 734-meter Binondo-Intramuros bridge will cross the Pasig River to link Intramuros and Binondo.

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