A Chinese worker is seen at the construction site of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila yesterday. The project is funded by loans from the Chinese government.
Russell Palma
‘Prioritize Pinoy workers in China-funded projects’
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are working on drafting amendments to the Official Development Assistance Act in an effort to ensure local jobs are protected amid growing concerns on the influx of Chinese workers in the country.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on economic affairs, said the panel is working on the provisions of the ODA Act to ensure local employment protection.

“We will not just work on prioritization, but ensure employment protection,” Gatchalian said.

He added Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade should not crow about his Chinese counterparts committing to limit their locals from getting jobs in China-funded projects.

“We should not be requesting that (job protection for Filipinos), we should not be talking about that anymore because that’s in our laws and we have to enforce them,” Gatchalian said.

Sen. Nancy Binay, on the other hand, reiterated her call to prioritize Filipino construction workers for jobs in the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” projects, particularly those funded by China.

“I hope before the contracts were signed, it was made clear that they’re 100 percent Filipino construction workers in our Build, Build, Build projects,” Binay said.

She added contracts should specify that Filipinos would be preferred for the jobs.

In the supplemental guidelines for the issuance of Special Working Permits (SWP) to those applying for jobs in the Philippines, foreigners are not allowed to work as construction workers, cashiers, waiters, janitors, household workers, carpenters, garbage collectors, security guards, warehouse caretakers.

Binay said under the supplemental guidelines for the issuance of SWPs, foreigners are not allowed to work as blue collar workers, including construction laborers.

The investments China committed during the Belt and Road Forum include infrastructure, energy, petrochemical and industrial park projects, which are expected to create more than 21,000 jobs for Filipinos.

Binay denounced moves by government agencies allowing employment of foreign workers as part of loan agreements with China.

“The agreement to accommodate Chinese construction workers in the Philippines is unfair and disadvantageous to local workers. They might be able to find a way to circumvent the law,” she said.

Be transparent

Binay and Gatchalian in separate statements welcomed the signing of the investment and financing deals witnessed by President Duterte, who attended the Belt and Road Initiative forum last week in Beijing.

Both senators however urged Malacañang to disclose the full details of the various agreements totaling $12 billion signed between the Philippines and China.

They said economic managers should assure the public that the country’s interests have been upheld in signing the contracts, including protecting jobs meant for Filipinos.

“We’re happy because of the reported $12 billion in new investments but the government must also be transparent, immediately upload in their websites what were the deals that we have entered into,” Gatchalian told dzBB.

Vice President Leni Robredo also called on Malacañang to be transparent regarding the new agreements it signed recently with China.

“From Day 1 we have been demanding for transparency. In fact, this was the third visit of the President to China. Since his first visit we have been demanding to see the copies of these agreements,” Robredo said.

Robredo said the Filipino people must know the reasons why the government signed these agreements with Beijing.

“First, we are interested on the terms of agreements. Second, of course we need to know why the government entered into these agreements. How many have started already, how many have complied? Because entering into an agreement is the easiest part,” she said.

Gatchalian, for his part, pointed out among the sensitive issues for Filipinos are the oil and gas exploration agreements that the Duterte administration may have entered into with state-owned Chinese firms as these would surely impinge on the country’s claim over the West Philippine Sea.

“If the government is transparent, there’ll be less suspicion from our countrymen,” he said.

Gatchalian added the panel may soon come out with its initial findings on its inquiry into the various loan deals between the Philippines and China that many fear are onerous, disadvantageous, and plunge the country into a debt trap.

On the other hand, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the government should exert all efforts to rid unnecessary irritants in the implementation of Chinese-funded loans to boost further the administration’s massive infrastructure program.

“Clearly, the economic and trade cooperation between our two countries is as good as it has ever been, better than it has ever been in fact. The main thing to focus on now, is on the implementation side,” Arroyo told delegates of Boao Forum for Asia recently held here in Manila. 

The former president and now leader of the 292-member House of Representatives said the country has to “exert maximum effort to remove on-the-ground bottlenecks that impede implementation of projects that involve trade and investment groups from China.”   

“Bilateral ties between the Philippines and China have reached new heights in recent years, and this is evident in the jump in China’s investment in the Philippines and in China’s becoming the Philippines’ No. 1 partner in trade,” Arroyo maintained. 

“We (also) need the hardware, and this is where the Belt and Road Initiative comes in to provide brick and mortar infrastructures without which international trade and investments cannot operate,” she added. – With Helen Flores, Delon Porcalla

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