MANILA - The government should be more transparent in its dealings with China, especially with loan negotiations for President Rodrigo Duterte's P8.4-trillion infrastructure push, a maritime law expert from the University of the Philippines said Sunday.
A Chinese scholar recently told Beijing's state-run paper Global Times that Chinese loans are "usually accompanied by repayment agreements, which use certain natural resources as collateral." This triggered concerns that Duterte may end up selling or leasing or selling the country's natural resources in exchange for funding.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday assured that Beijing's assistance to the Philippines comes "with no strings attached."
The "no strings attached" claim, however, is usually associated with "pure grants arrangements" that are treated differently from loans, said Prof. Jay Batongbacal, director of UP’s Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
"Loans will always have some strings attached," he told ANC.
Batongbacal scored what he said was the government's "silence" on the details of the loans being negotiated with China.
"Silence usually results in secret deals being made, and that is why we need to keep vigilant and always be concerned about these things," he said.
"We need openness and frankness on both sides, not only Chinese government but also the Philippine government."
He also said that the government should continue to push for the Philippines' territorial claims even as it pursues closer cooperation with China.
In 2016, an arbitration court invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims in the South China Sea. The decision, considered a landmark win for the Philippines, was downplayed under the current administration as Duterte pursued closer ties with the world's second largest economy.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque last week said the Philippines and China could set aside sea disputes and jointly explore the resource-rich waters where $5 trillion in shipping trade pass annually.