‘China can’t hire its na­tion­als for projects in PH’

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS - By Ben O. de Vera @ben­de­v­er­aINQ

Even if China grants the Philippines enor­mous loans to ramp up in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, the law still pro­hibits the hir­ing of for­eign con­struc­tion work­ers, ac­cord­ing to the head of Pres­i­dent Duterte’s eco­nomic team.

“That is not the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy to im­port la­bor. But if you need spe­cial skills and they are not avail­able in the coun­try, then you bring them in, which we al­ready do. There is a law that al­lows for­eign work­ers to work in this coun­try for highly tech­ni­cal work,” Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Car­los G. Dominguez III told re­porters re­cently.

Dominguez was re­act­ing to re­ports al­leg­ing that the gov­ern­ment may have to hire Chi­nese con­struc­tion work­ers for in­fra­struc­ture projects that will be funded by China, es­pe­cially if stip­u­lated by the con­tracts for of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance (ODA) from Bei­jing.

“This shouldn’t hap­pen be­cause the law only al­lows spe­cial work per­mits to be is­sued to aliens who are ei­ther highly tech­ni­cal or man­age­rial. Other than that, the law doesn’t al­low them to be given visas to work. That is very clear,” Fi­nance Un­der­sec­re­tary An­tonette C. Tionko said.

As such, “we will fol­low the law,” Dominguez stressed.

For his part, So­cioe­co­nomic Plan­ning Sec­re­tary Ernesto M. Per­nia said that “we cer­tainly are go­ing to be very care­ful in our deal­ings in terms of project fi­nanc­ing from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment” so that it would not al­low the en­try of Chi­nese firms with ques­tion­able records.

Per­nia, who heads the Na­tional Eco­nomic and De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (Neda), said con­cerns over ques­tion­able sources of funds from China could be pre­ma­ture since “we haven’t yet signed any loan agree­ment with China ex­cept oral com­mit­ments or some writ­ten mem­o­randa of un­der­stand­ing.”

In Novem­ber last year, the Neda board chaired by the Pres­i­dent ap­proved In­vest­ment Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee (ICC) guide­lines on pro­cess­ing China-as­sisted projects, which Neda said “de­tails the guide­lines and pro­ce­dures for pro­cess­ing project pro­pos­als, for ICC re­view and ap­proval, which re­quire the avail­ment of Chi­nese sup­port for the con­duct of pre-in­vest- ment and in­vest­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.”

“The ra­tio­nale of the pro­posal is to es­tab­lish a sin­gle clear­ing house, which is the ICC, for the ex­pected in­flux of projects or in­vest­ments pro­posed to be sup­ported by China,” Neda said.

Per­nia said the ICC ac­cred­i­ta­tion would “avoid a re­peat of the ZTE and the Northrail de­ba­cles,” re­fer­ring to anom­aly-laden projects in the past en­tered into with Chi­nese firms.

Dominguez said that dur­ing the first six months of the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, it al­ready se­cured about P1 tril­lion in ODA from China and Ja­pan.

Both eco­nomic giants were ag­gres­sively seek­ing in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments in the Philippines in light of the “Duterte­nomics” thrust of “Build, Build, Build” aimed at ush­er­ing in a “golden age of in­fra­struc­ture.”

At least P8 tril­lion will be spent by the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion in the next six years to build hard in­fra­struc­ture.

Un­der the plan, in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing will rise from P847.2 bil­lion or 5.3 per­cent of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct this year to P1.84 tril­lion or 7.3 per­cent of GDP in 2022.

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