Senators question high proportion of Chinese workers for DPWH's bridge projects
Miniature model of the Binondo-Intramuros bridge and Estrella-Pantaleon bridge donated by the Chinese government.
Philippine Information Agency NCR/Facebook

Senators question high proportion of Chinese workers for DPWH's bridge projects

(Philstar.com) - October 15, 2020 - 11:20am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Wednesday flagged the significant proportion of Chinese workers set to work on bridge construction projects in Metro Manila, citing the pressing need to hire Filipino workers whose livelihoods have been imperiled by COVID-19 crisis. 

As officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways faced a Senate panel deliberating on their proposed budget for 2021, they were questioned on whether the employment of foreign workers was a condition for the approval of official development assistance (ODA) from foreign countries. 

"No, its not necessarily a condition, but a lot of these new projects, foreign projects, they do come with new technologies, they do require some specialization," DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said in response. 

"Sometimes, in some of our projects, some level of Chinese work, you see some level of foreign work, not necessarily Chinese. We have projects with the Japanese, we have projects with the Koreans, and they have special skills, special equipments," he further explained. 

According to Undersecretary Emil Sadain, 31% of the workers for the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge are Chinese, while 69% are Filipino. The ratio for the Binondo-Intramuros bridge is more equally divided with 55% Filipino workers and 45% Chinese workers. 

"Its because of the construction's methodology that goes more with the fabrications on the trusses of the [Binondo-Intramuros] bridge as compared to the Estrella-Pantaleon which is purely a concrete bridge. So, the engagement here is actually down to the technicalities," Sadain said. 

READ: Bridge burning bridges: Why the China-funded Binondo-Intramuros structure is controversial

However, Sen. Francis Pangilinan countered that having even 31% Chinese workers for a Filipino project is high "no matter how you look at it." 

"The construction industry has registered the largest drop in employment in the second quarter of this year, that's almost 30% drop in employment. So it is really imperative for government to be able to create jobs and also protect existing jobs," Pangilinan said.

When asked to do so, Villar committed to only allow foreign work if absolutely necessary for technical skills. He added that protects requiring technical assistance from foreign workers also benefit Filipino workers by means of a technology and skills transfer. 

Sen. Joel Villanueva also pressed the DPWH to ensure that the the transfer of "technical knowhow" actually occurs in order to lessen the need to employ foreign workers in the future. 

"You have to have mechanisms to ensure and monitor that they are technically different and that no Filipino is capable of doing their jobs," he pressed further. 

After deliberations which went on for almost six hours, senators moved to endorse the DPWH's proposed P666.47 billion budget for 2021 to the plenary. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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