‘China can’t hire its nationals for projects in PH’
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 Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team.
“That is not the government’s policy to import labor,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told reporters recently. “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.”
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-investment 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.