Loans carefully negotiated, Zhao assures Philippines

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Loans carefully negotiated, Zhao assures Philippines
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua arrived at the Department of Justice (DOJ) compound on Padre Faura in Manila at 3 p.m. and met with Guevarra for about an hour.

MANILA, Philippines — Amid fears that the Philippines is falling into a debt trap with China, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua paid Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra a visit last Friday to assure him that the loans were “carefully negotiated” by the two countries’ economic teams.

Zhao arrived at the Department of Justice (DOJ) compound on Padre Faura in Manila at 3 p.m. and met with Guevarra for about an hour.

Guevarra later told reporters of Zhao’s assurance that the loans were finalized “in the spirit of cooperation.”

One of the prominent critics of the loan deal was Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who argued that the Chico River pump irrigation project reportedly carried a provision that allows the use of resources in the gas-rich Recto (Reed) Bank as collateral for the P3.69-billion loan.

But Guevarra maintained the government has mechanisms in place in case of default.

Moreover, he said, the loan is too small for the Philippines to be unable to pay for it.

Other matters he discussed with Zhao, Guevarra said, were the influx of Chinese workers in the Philippines and the possibility of establishing mutual legal assistance.

“The Chinese government does not tolerate illegal Chinese workers abroad but hopes that they will be treated humanely,” Guevarra said, quoting Zhao.

“That proposed agreement has been in the works much earlier, I can’t really say which side initiated it,” the DOJ chief said, referring to the planned mutual legal assistance system.

The agreement is “more specifically a proposed agreement on transfer of sentenced persons,” he added.

He explained that “sentenced personnel” refer to “Filipinos convicted and imprisoned in China, and Chinese convicted and imprisoned in the Philippines. For example, persons convicted and serving sentence in illegal drug cases.”

There would also be a “sharing of information on criminal syndicates, especially drug syndicates, etc.,” he added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is still reviewing the proposal. “If concluded, (it will be the first) between the two countries,” he said.

The Philippines has similar agreements with Canada, Cuba, Hong Kong, Spain and Thailand.

Protest pushed

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna and Magdalo party-lists reiterated their call on President Duterte to protest the overwhelming presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island, which is a town in Palawan in the West Philippine Sea.

“The government should protest these types of actions and get the support of the international community against these aggressive moves in the West Philippine Sea. We fear that China might be gearing up to build more artificial islands or even invade our Pag-asa Island,” Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares said.

“We do not want to sound alarmist but the Duterte administration should prepare for this and not let China trample our sovereignty again,” he said.

Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo said he warned the administration two years ago about Beijing’s intentions in Pag-asa but the warning was ignored.

He recalled that in August 2017, he released pictures on the massing up of Chinese Coast Guard, Chinese Navy and maritime militia in the sandbars of Pag-asa Island.

Two months later, he reported that Chinese maritime militia and the Chinese Navy were driving Philippine vessels conducting patrol from the sandbars.

“The Duterte administration tagged the information I released as fake and called me a liar even when an independent think tank verified the information. Now, look where we are. What used to be few vessels grew to 600 vessels circling Pag-asa Island now, according to the AFP Western Command,” the former Marine captain lamented.

He said China would continue to assert control in the Pag-asa Island sandbars despite the “friendly” relations the administration is trying to foster.

“The sandbars are critical to China’s claim of Subi (Zamora) Reef. If China seizes Sandy Cay, they will be able to claim Subi Reef as part of the territorial sea of Sandy Cay.

“While it is a positive development that the AFP is starting to be transparent on the real situation in the West Philippine Sea, I urge the Duterte administration to act on the rising number of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island and protest China’s illegal actions,” Alejano said. – Evelyn Macairan



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