China's loan, investment pledges unlikely to be fulfilled under Duterte's term – Carpio

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 8) – The billions of pesos of committed loans and investments by the Chinese government may turn out to be empty promises, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned as the Duterte administration's term is close to ending without any major projects completed.

The many concessions extended by President Rodrigo Duterte just to please China will likely end up useless, Carpio warned, as these financial promises have not yet materialized just two years shy of him leaving office.

"The President wants to secure loans and investments from China for his 'Build, Build, Build,' but we are nearing the end of his term now and we don't see these investments or loans from China," Carpio said during the Atin ang Pinas forum Monday. "In fact, due to this COVID-19 pandemic crisis, I doubt if China will release those loans now because China is in a financial problem also."

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Duterte announced a pivot or foreign policy shift toward China just months into his presidency, shoring up $24 billion (about ₱1 trillion) in investment pledges with warmer ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, few of these have materialized into actual projects four years later.

"All of these are for naught – we've wasted four years now, we have not acted to protect our sovereign rights but we can always start right away," Carpio added, noting that China is even taking advantage of the pandemic to expand illegal activities in disputed waters.

Two of the nine infrastructure projects with signed loan accords are funded by the Export-Import Bank of China: the ₱4.37 billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project and the ₱12.2 billion Kaliwa Dam project. However, both are just in early stages of implementation, data showed.

Other China-funded projects such as the Marawi rehabilitation plan and two bridges in Manila are yet to be completed as well, according to a list from the National Economic and Development Authority. Meanwhile, the government secured a $750 million (about ₱38 billion) loan from Beijing's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last month to support the local COVID-19 response, subject to certain conditions.

The decision to just "freeze" the arbitral ruling that dismissed the mainland's sweeping claims in the South China Sea also worked against the country's stake, Carpio added. Four years since the landmark decision, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that Beijing still doesn't see the Philippines as having equal rights to the disputed waters.

"To the detriment of our people, our President has given full accommodation to Beijing," Del Rosario said. "We have received nothing but vicious abuses from China."

"China has continued to move forward with its unlawful agenda. Why? Because we allow them to do so," Del Rosario also said.

He added that raising the issue before the United Nations General Assembly will put pressure on China to adhere to the rule of law, with the support of other nations.

Carpio, meanwhile, stressed that the focus should now be on convincing the Duterte government to unite with Vietnam and Malaysia to enforce the arbitral ruling, mainly by doing joint patrols to assert their respective territorial claims. He pointed out that unlike China, Manila has no long-term plan to counter Beijing's incursions, which are likely to grow more aggressive.

The legal expert said that the territorial row is unlikely to be resolved in his generation, so the task now is to educate the youth about what is rightfully ours.

Carpio also said defending the West Philippine Sea should be an election issue during the 2022 presidential elections. "Our problem today is that our own government simply doesn't want to displease China," he said.

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"We must vote for a government that will assert and preserve our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Journalist Marites D. Vitug, author of the book "Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won It's Maritime Case Against China," suggested to include the West Philippine Sea in geography lectures in schools to instill the knowledge that these disputed areas belong to the Philippines – a direct response to China's nine-dash line propaganda already debunked by The Hague.

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