MANILA - Several senators on Wednesday questioned why at least a third of workers in 2 bridge construction projects in Manila are Chinese, saying that Filipinos should be prioritized in hiring schemes especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to data from the DPWH, 45 percent of workers in the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge project are Chinese, while the same foreign nationality also composes 31 percent of those involved in the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge project.
"Mataas yung 31 percent no matter how you look at it," Sen. Francis Pangilinan told DPWH officials during a budget hearing in the Senate.
(No matter how you look at it, 31 percent is a high number.)
"We have many ways to push for local employment over foreign employment," he said.
Under the law, professional vacancies - such as engineeers, architects and doctors - must only be occupied by Filipino workers, Sen. Sonny Angara said.
"There is a provision in the Constitution that the practice of professions must be limited to Filipinos," he said.
"Foreign companies can bid on these projects, but let us make sure that they are employing locals," he said,
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said that the foreign workers were hired as part of the agreement with China, which financed several projects in Manila.
"It's a grant. It is a gift from China," he said.
Villar said the foreign workers were also needed as the job requirements are "very machine-based" that require a "higher need for technical expertise."
"At this point it is not really labor-intensive so it might be a slightly higher need for technical expertise," he said
"These new projects come with new technologies and they require specialization, so in some projects you see not only Chinese, but also Japanese and Korean," he said.
"We will always be one to increase job creation in the country. We will only require foreign workers for required technical skills," he said.
The DPWH has to "make sure that these technical knowhow will be transferred" to Filipinos so that the government no longer needs to employ foreign workers in the future, Senate Committee on Labor chair Joel Villanueva said.
"You have to have a mechanism to ensure and monitor na technically kakaiba sila (foreign workers) at walang kayang gumawang Pilipino," he said.
(You have to have mechanisms to ensure and monitor that they are technically different and that no Filipino is capable of doing their jobs.)
The DPWH must also prioritize procuring from local suppliers, Pangilinan said.
"We have to change our way of dealing with these... contracts," he said.
"Madaling sabihin na these are technical matters pero baka yung ganung klaseng negotiations kailangan iprioritize natin yung 39 percent na [Pilipinong] walang trabaho," he said.
The DPWH "will be even more aggressive in making sure that our labor requirements are increased especially for Filipino workers," Villar said.