NIA defends ‘highly skilled’ Sino workers at Chico River project
The Chinese workers helping build the P4.37-billion Chico River Irrigation Pump Project are highly skilled and trusted by the Chinese company and they only represent a small percentage of the total work force involved in one of the Duterte administration’s major infrastructure projects, the government said on Saturday.
Pilipina Bermudez, a spokesperson for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), said the employment of Chinese “licensed engineers” was an issue of “trustworthiness” for its contractor, China CAMC Engineering Co. Ltd.
Together with 347 Filipinos, the 66 Chinese workers represent only about 16 percent of the total work force and they were recruited specifically for the construction of the major structures of the project, Bermudez told the Inquirer on Saturday.
“The issue is trustworthiness. Because we have a Chinese contractor, they would like the most critical structures to be done by workers they know … and they know these workers very well,” she said in a phone interview.
CPA, KMU protests
The NIA on Friday issued a statement following the reported protests by the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) against the project and the employment of Chinese workers for construction jobs that Filipinos in the northern region could perform.
One KMU official alleged that the Chinese workers were being paid about P3,000, 10 times more than the P300 that Filipino workers get.
The NIA said the project would tap the Chico River to irrigate 7,500 hectares of rice farms in the towns of Tuao and Piat in Cagayan province, and 1,170 ha in Pinukpuk, Kalinga province. It would use six pump units to siphon 3,000 liters of river water per second.
About 4,350 indigenous Kalinga farmers and their families are expected to benefit from the project which could also provide 8,700 permanent jobs once it becomes operational, it said.
Even families that were displaced were supportive of the project and were fairly compensated, the NIA said, adding that local governments and other groups that were affected were well-informed about the project.
Work began last year and the construction of a pump house, substations, transmission lines, a main diversion canal and lateral canals, access roads and other structures are supposed to be finished later this year. Once finished, the irrigation project would have 143 kilometers of diversion tunnels and lateral canals.
The NIA said the Chinese workers were “highly technical and highly skilled,” making them necessary in the construction of the project’s tunnel and pumping station.
It said Filipino workers may be capable of doing those kinds of work but noted that “the collaboration with Chinese workers makes the work faster, thus shortening the construction period.”
China CAMC Engineering is a subsidiary of Sinomach, which is known as a top-earning international contractor. It has operated in various countries, including Laos, Belarus and Canada, and is considered one of the largest contractors of power and industrial projects worldwide.
The big-ticket project, part of the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration, is funded by a P3.6-billion loan from China.
The NIA said no dam or reservoir would be built, allaying fears of some opponents that the project would pose a danger to local residents.
CPA has said the government failed to take into account the negative impact the project may pose on the communities that live off the 175-km river.
Chico River, with headwaters in Mountain Province, flows through Kalinga before it empties into Cagayan Valley.
CPA took video footage on April 22 of one of the project sites, including bunkhouses for the Chinese workers and interviewed several of them.
The group on Saturday, however, said their visit was not intended to criticize “but to determine the condition of both Filipino and Chinese workers.”
CPA said the Chinese workers they spoke with indicated they would be returning home after three months.
Members of the militant party-list Bayan Muna last month asked the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order on the project and to strike down the loan deal with China as unconstitutional.
Their petition said the confidentiality clause in the loan agreement violated the right to information on foreign loans contracted by the government.
The agreement also reportedly did not have prior concurrence from the Monetary Board as required by the Constitution and was conditioned on awarding the project to a Chinese contractor, a violation of the country’s procurement laws and the Filipino First policy, the petitioners said.
In addition, in case of a dispute, the agreement would haul the country to a Chinese arbitration tribunal governed by Chinese laws. The loan deal also contained an express waiver of sovereign immunity over the state’s patrimonial assets in favor of China, according to the petition.
“Collateralization of patrimonial property for unpaid obligations under a foreign loan contract or as an award in an arbitral proceeding is unconstitutional and illegal,” the petition said. —With a report from Vincent Cabreza
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.