MANILA - Malacañang appealed Wednesday for "leeway" in hiring Chinese workers engaged in ongoing infrastructure projects, which a senator criticized as the COVID-19 pandemic spawned job cuts for Filipinos in the construction industry.
The Department of Public Works and Highways said in a recent Senate hearing that the Chinese comprise 45 percent of the workforce in the Binondo Bridge project and 30 percent in the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge.
These bridges are "100-percent donations from the Chinese government," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
"We don’t pay back anything for the building of these bridges. That’s why we need to give them some flexibility in the personnel that they hire," he told CNN Philippines.
"Had this been a project that we will pay for using taxpayers’ money, of course we would insist that aside from highly technical positions, Philippine laborers should be employed. I just appeal that we should give them some leeway although we would appreciate it of course if the Chinese government should employ more Filipinos," he added.
As a general rule, foreigners should be hired “only when there’s not enough Filipinos able and have the capacity to perform the work,” said Roque.
He said he would discuss the issue with the DPWH and the labor department “to see if we can insist that more Filipinos should be hired.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan earlier called on the government to renegotiate these contracts so that the projects could employ more jobless Filipinos or repatriated migrant workers.
"Baka naman kaya natin iyon, baka kinakailangan lang ng kaunting re-training ng ating mga kababayan para magkaroon ng ganung klaseng mga skills. Eh sa atin dapat unahin," he said in a radio interview.
(Maybe we can do it, perhaps our compatriots need just a little re-training to get the required skills. Our workers should be prioritized.)
"In the end it is our call. We can disapprove... Ang final approval is with the government, our government. And therefore, dapat wag tayong basta-basta na lang nagpapadikta (we should not let ourselves be dictated upon)," he added.
A recent Social Weather Station Survey showed that adult unemployment rate in September was 39.5 percent, or about 23.7 million Filipinos.