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It is offending China, not war, that Pres. Duterte is avoiding – IBON

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue, as expressed in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), is not about avoiding war with China, but is about avoiding offending the Chinese government and losing all its promised funds.

Last July 22, Pres. Duterte highlighted the possibility of China attacking the country if the government took a strong stance on its claims in the disputed WPS.

According to the president, “more and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public”.

IBON, however, said that the administration is only using the possibility of war to conceal the agreements reached “in the privacy of a conference room” between the Philippine and Chinese governments which seem to be at the expense of the Filipino people’s interests.

IBON noted that while other claimants to the disputed area, like Vietnam and Indonesia, are taking a more aggressive stance to defend their claims, China has yet to declare war against these two countries.

The group said that the administration should see this as an opportunity to foster unity between the Philippines and its other neighbors to defend their respective claims against China.

But the government is not doing this, nor is it asserting the July 2016 ruling of the international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that was in favor of the Philippines.

The decision upheld the country’s  rights over the 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The President instead has claimed to be proud of his friendship with China, IBON said.

Rather than defend his fellowmen, he has insulted Filipino fishermen by implying that they should be thankful that Chinese Pres. Xi Jin Ping allowed them to fish in the WPS.

He also reduced the ramming and sinking of the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 by a Chinese ship in June to “a mere incident”.

IBON said that the reason for the Duterte administration being overly accommodating is most likely due to its desire for Chinese financing.

IBON estimates that the government is seeking as much as Php673.2 billion from China for its 75 flagship projects aside from Php204.7 billion more for infrastructure and other projects – for a total of Php877.9 billion.

According to the group, the terms of the loan agreements that the administration enters into with China for its infrastructure drive are onerous.

These include only using China’s goods and services, including for payment of Chinese contractors and even hiring of Chinese workers; stringent loan payment schedules; contracts being explicitly governed and construed in accordance with the laws of China and disputes having to be settled in the courts of China; and the Philippines waiving its sovereign rights over its patrimonial assets in connection with any arbitration proceeding.

The last is synonymous with the collateralization of  the country’s assets, like natural and strategic resources.

IBON said that instead of being concerned with stepping on China’s toes and losing financing, the Duterte administration should implement a truly independent foreign policy.

Such a policy should defend and uphold Philippine sovereignty, ensure  domestic development, and prioritize the welfare of all Filipinos, said the group. #

Impunity charge vs China filed at ICC

Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario filed a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “check impunity” in the disputed South China Sea. Morales said they want to send a clear message to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte administration and to all Filipinos. “We demand accountability from those who destroy marine areas, and we want to check impunity as a deterrent to progress,” she said.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Beware of onerous China ODA – IBON

In its eagerness to raise billions of pesos in funds for its hyped infrastructure program, the Duterte administration is brokering questionable deals with China that could threaten Philippine sovereignty, research group IBON warned.

IBON said that agreements between both governments include China’s official development assistance (ODA) loans for Build, Build, Build infrastructure project like the Php12.2 billion New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, which will be 85 percent funded by China.

The Duterte administration needs Php8.4 trillion for its whole term to bankroll Build, Build, Build, said the group, and is apparently counting on China to provide a substantial amount of this.

IBON said the size and value of China investments, loans and interest is not yet as extensive as those of other countries like Japan and the US, or financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB).

However, Filipinos should be particularly wary of the onerous conditions China imposes, which could result in the Philippines virtually giving up its sovereignty, said the group.

For instance, China ODA has been known to stipulate the collaterization of resources and state assets should a country default on its loan payments, noted the group.

The Sri Lankan government, for instance, was forced to lease its strategic Hambantota Port for 99 years to a Chinese company when it was unable to pay back its debt to China.

IBON also noted that another lopsided condition terms of reference in China loans that require the agreement as well as the rights and obligations of both parties be put beyond the scope of Philippine laws and transparency in the public domain. China apparently prefers disputes to be settled at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).

These conditions are included in the Chico River Pump Irrigation loan agreement.

Additionally, IBON questioned the provision in the loan agreement stating that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of China.”

The group expressed concern that this could mean that Chinese law will supersede Philippine law in case there is a conflict between the two.

Also of concern is the Duterte administration’s willingness to give up its territorial resources in the South China Sea to secure China investments and loans, the group said.

In line with this is the administration’s efforts to be a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which supposedly gives access to coveted infrastructure investments.

In exchange, the Philippines has been easing the way for China’s interests in the disputed waters.

IBON said that instead of prioritizing the attraction of one-sided foreign investments and loans for its infrastructure program, the government should put national interest and public welfare first over local and foreign big business interests.

To be beneficial to the country, foreign investments and loans that are being considered should be planned in accordance with the genuine development of domestic agriculture and industries, with close monitoring and regulation by the government. #

Protest greets Xi Jinping visit

Various groups held a mass action at the Chinese consulate in Makati City last Tuesday (November 20) to denounce the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they expressed outrage against the Rodrigo Duterte government for its subservience to the Chinese government.

The Pilipinong Nagkakaisa Para sa Soberanya o P1NAS called Duterte a traitor to the Pilipino people as it pointed out that his government is virtually surrendering Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea to China.

Even after losing in an international tribunal that determined the disputed areas are part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone three years ago, China refuses to recognize the decision  proceeded to militarize some islands.

China’s presence in the area includes so-called “ joint development” schemes with the Duterte government seen as a  weakening of the Philippine claims.

In the said rally, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) expressed concern that Duterte’s economic deals with China may push the Philippines under deeper debt.

In his visit to the Philippines, Xi took home 29 agreements, including an understanding on joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea and the construction of mega dams, including the Chico River Pump Irrigation, the New Centennial  Water Source Kaliwa Project, and the Agus-Pulangi Mega Dam project.

Indigenous peoples earlier raised fears that the China-ODA projects will cause their displacement from their lands and livelihood.

“Pawning our lands to an imperialist country like China is a serious crime that may lead to ethnocide,” Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas said. # (Joseph Cuevas)