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Tugade: China commits to tap PH workers for rail projects

/ 05:30 AM April 28, 2019

BEIJING — Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Saturday said Chinese companies tapped to build three major railways in Luzon and Mindanao starting this year had committed to hire Filipino workers for basic construction work.

Tugade said the Philippines and China also agreed to speed up the construction of the rail projects while ensuring that Chinese engineering and technical consultants would pay appropriate taxes.

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The hiring of Filipino workers would address concerns in the Philippines that the Chinese were stealing local jobs, he said.

The Chinese project proponents, Tugade said, may bring in engineers and other technical people only.

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He said a first batch of 1,000 workers from the Bicol region would undergo training for employment in the 639-kilometer South Long-Haul Project of the Philippine National Railways.

The Philippines and China signed in November last year a P14.38-billion contract for the project management consultancy of the “Bicol Express” project, which China Railway Design Corp. and Guangzhou Wanan Construction Supervision Co. Ltd. Consortium of China had won in a bidding.

Free of corruption

The two countries also agreed to ensure that any project would be free of corruption, Tugade said on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum attended by President Rodrigo Duterte and 36 other world leaders here on Saturday.

“Corruption is defined as [involving] facilitation, commission and [giving of] expensive gift. You break that I will terminate the contract at any point,” Tugade said.

Apart from the Bicol Express  project, Chinese companies and technical consultants would also build the 70 km Clark-Subic railway and the 1,500 km Mindanao railway, all of which are funded by official development assistance from China.

Plans for the ambitious Mindanao railway project, President Duterte’s longtime dream, is being finalized and will be submitted for approval by the National Economic Development Authority next month, according to Tugade.

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China, he said, agreed to certain conditions in the implementation of railway projects proposed by the Philippines.

Chinese project proponents agreed to partial operability, which means that the railways could be opened for business even before the completion of their entire lengths.

In the case of the Bicol railway, Tugade said operations were targeted to start in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, by which time around 180 to 230 km of railway should have been built.

For the Mindanao railway, he said partial operation could start by the time 110 km of rail had been built. This project will be funded by the Export-Import Bank of China.

The President, in a speech during the forum on Saturday, said China’s Belt and Road initiative presented an opportunity to explore avenues of mutually beneficial partnerships for sustainable development.

Big-ticket infra projects

He reported that 75 big-ticket infrastructure projects worth $41.6 billion would be implemented by the Philippines under his administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program in the medium term.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Friday announced that the Philippines bagged $12.2 billion in new investments and trade deals with Chinese partners in the President’s third visit to China.

Sealed were 19 agreements for big-ticket and labor-intensive energy, petrochemical, industrial park and infrastructure projects, which could create more than 21,000 new jobs in the Philippines, Lopez said.

The President has said that the three railway projects are part of his plan to create more growth centers in the country.

“Our goal is to promote new growth centers outside the already congested urban-industrial region surrounding Metropolitan Manila. [The new Chinese investments] will create more job opportunities for our people,” he said in his speech.

The Philippines, along with the rest of Asia, is “on the path of economic resurgence.”

“The Philippines in particular is set to join the ranks of upper middle-income countries as it is projected to become the 25th largest economy in the world in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms,” the President said.

But party-list group Bayan Muna on Saturday challenged Malacañang to fully disclose the terms of the fresh investment and trade agreements the Philippines entered into with Chinese companies.

‘Dubious’

Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna chair and Makabayan senatorial candidate, said every loan agreement with China should be scrutinized as these usually contained “dubious” provisions that may be detrimental to the Filipino people.

“Why are we so obsessed with loans from China? [Finance] Secretary [Carlos] Dominguez and [National Economic and Development Authority] Secretary [Ernesto] Pernia should inform the public if these Chinese loans give out ‘finder’s fees’ to those who facilitate these loan agreements and they should identify those who earned big [money] because of these finder’s fees,” he said.

Two of the contract agreements are the construction of a 250-megawatt hydroelectric power project in Bukidnon province and a $500-million telecommunications project, which aims to build infrastructure for nationwide Wi-Fi internet connectivity.

But Colmenares wanted these new deals to be closely studied because, he said, earlier loan agreements with China contained provisions not found in agreements the Philippines signed with other countries.

He questioned provisions in Chinese loans for various infrastructure projects in the Philippines, including the allocation of millions of pesos for the hiring of consultants. —WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON

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TAGS: Arthur Tugade, PH railway projects, PH-China Relations
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