MANILA - Tapping China-backed loans for infrastructure projects should be done legally and with transparency to protect the country's sovereignty, former ombudsman and high court magistrate Conchita Carpio-Morales said Friday.
In a forum on corrosive capital, Morales criticized government's China-backed loans for projects such as the $88-million Chico River pump irrigation project that demanded confidentiality or a clause to allow the use of Philippine natural resources as collateral.
Officials have earlier defended the Chico River loan deal and said there was no collateral in the transaction.
Corrosive capital refers to private or state-backed loans which lack transparency, are prone to corruption, and seek influence or other objectives outside economic benefits.
"No matter how transparency and accountability mechanisms are in place, the choice of one person between upholding our rights and turning a blind eye from fear of might, matters more in this time of rampant disrespect to the rule of law," Carpio-Morales said.
The attempt to capitalize on China's Belt and Road Initiative, or China's aggressive deployment of capital, can generate jobs and economic growth, but the former official said it has to be done right.
“The ultimate collateral is our sovereignty as a people and as a nation. While it is early to ascertain and provide concrete accounts of [how the] BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) has been for China’s expansion of power, the early signs are glaring and worrying," she said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued friendlier ties with China to seek investments and infrastructure funding, largely submitting to Chinese might as it continued incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Recently, he drew flak for saying that his 2016 campaign statement that he would ride a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag in the disputed territory was a joke.
He also called the Philippines' 2016 arbitral victory against China's 9-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea as a mere piece of paper.
"Duterte China policy has been such a big blunder. Things are worse in South China Sea, not much has come in terms of infrastructure or economic investment," said Richard Heydarian, non-resident fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute.
With the administration's remaining time in power just over a year, plans must be put on hold so that the next administration could decide on how to deal with China, said Infrawatch Convenor Terry Ridon.
“We are placing the West Philippine Sea on the line... for what? Two bridges along the Pasig river? When we speak about the loans, these will be paid for by generations of Filipinos. All we have received as a gift from Beijing [are] the two bridges, nothing else?" he said.
In 2016, Duterte said President Xi Jinping promised investments and loan pledges to the Philippines worth $24 billion after his "crucial" visit to Beijing.
As of August 2020, the country has received P5.9 billion for the Binondo-Intramurous and Estrella-Pantaleon bridges currently under construction, P1 billion for rehabilitation of conflict-stricken Marawi City, P4.4 billion for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, and P12 billion for the New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam, based on latest data from NEDA.