China wagers on Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte’s subservience to China has further escalated in recent months. From his defeatist response to tensions at the West Philippine Sea, to the issuance of policies such as the Executive Order No. 160 which favors Chinese mining operations in the country, Duterte is outrightly selling off the sovereignty of the country.
In exchange for what? It its believed that this is in exchange for China’s promise to fund ambitious infrastructure projects under his Build, Build, Build program. When Duterte visited China in 2016, he bragged that the country promised to give him $24 billion or ₱1.2 trillion to fund these.
The reactionary president’s term is already set to end within a year. Now, what has actually happened with the trillion pesos promised by China?
Of the funds promised by China, ₱720 billion is supposedly for 26 big-ticket infrastructure programs including railways, bridges and dams.
China is making it appear that these projects are part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a grandiose program for the construction of railways, roads and ports which aim to connect China to Central and South Asia up to Europe and Africa.
The Philippines was not originally covered by the Silk Road Economic Belt or the Maritime Silk Road of the BRI. This was used as a bait to the greedy and corrupt Duterte regime in exchange for its unwavering subservience to China’s dictates.
China’s gain in the country for almost five years is already huge, despite releasing only 5% of the funds which it promised to loan Duterte.
Aside from the ₱14.4-billion loan from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank supposedly for Covid-19 response, China currently has only two “Infrastructure Flagship Projects” in the country with signed contracts. These are the ₱4.37-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project and the ₱12.2-billion New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, which are bound to destroy communities and grab the ancestral lands of national minorities.
According to the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, only 11 Chinese-funded projects projects have been delivered, while 12 others are yet to begin. Majority of these are bridges and roads, including the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge and Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge which are both in Metro Manila. Other projects were cancelled such as the 32-kilometer Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridge, which according to Sen. Franklin Drilon will be left to the next administration. Other projects were cancelled by local governments such as the Sangley Point International Airport Project in Cavite.
In sum, the Philippines has received ₱28.8 billion in loans from China, which is way lower than loans from Japan (₱537.6 billion), Asian Development Bank (₱408 billion), and the World Bank (₱254.4 billion).
Wagering on Duterte
Although the funds promised by China to Duterte seem to be unrealistic, it has already gained a lot. Biggest of which of course is its expanded control over the West Philippine Sea. This was why China in 2018 declared that it will not allow Duterte to be replaced.
In fact, Duterte has already been able to pocket huge amounts of money in the form of bribes. He also have control over the smuggling of drugs from China. There are reports of bribe money secretly stashed in Chinese banks. Expect Duterte to continue favoring China in exchange for financial support.
Not everyone in the Duterte government blindly believes China’s false promises. In reality, during Duterte’s term, officials of the reactionary military already opposed his “China pivot” scheme, and outrightly pushed for more war exercises with the US military. There are active and retired military officials who have threatened to abandon the Duterte regime if it continues to surrender the Philippines seas and territories in the West Philippine Sea.
China is aware that if it will be unable to maintain the Duterte regime’s fanatical support, its growing control not only in the Philippines but in the whole of Asia can be reversed. Like the US, China is expected to show huge interest (and intervene) in the upcoming 2022 elections.