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Sherwin Gatchalian on warm PH-China ties: Stay on guard

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian-EARVIN PERIAS

MANILA, Philippines — Government agencies should always be on guard in protecting the interest of the Filipino people amid growing complaints against the entry of Chinese workers alongside Chinese investments, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said on Wednesday.

The Senate, Gatchalian said, was pushing for measures that would ensure greater transparency and public participation in the country’s foreign borrowings, following criticism that the Duterte administration’s dealings with China had compromised the country’s welfare.

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“This improved relationship with China definitely has brought productive outcomes, but we have to be very vigilant. It’s not because we we are getting all these advantages, we will let our guards down. We have to make sure that our laws are being followed and enforced properly,” he told Inquirer editors and reporters during the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum.

He said the Senate was “closely monitoring” an inquiry by a number of government agencies on Chinese laborers performing “simple and unskilled” jobs at construction sites in a number of China-funded projects.

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There are enough laws that local governments and national agencies can enforce against violations by Chinese or other foreign businesses in the country, including those on Boracay Island, he said.

These include the ban on foreign-owned business capitalized at P10 million or less and on jobs that can be performed by Filipino workers.

Illegal hiring

While foreign investors are welcome and beneficial to the economy, they should follow the country’s laws, Gatchalian said.

He said foreign workers could only be hired for jobs and areas where no Filipinos were available, like highly technical engineers in subway construction.

Hiring Chinese workers for simple and unskilled jobs, such as carpentry, painting and mason works, is illegal, he said.

Gatchalian called on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make sure local jobs were exclusive to Filipino workers.

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“This is also more of an enforcement problem—the (Securities and Exchange Commission) should not issue incorporation papers (to such businesses), while the Dole and the (Bureau of Immigration) should also do their jobs in terms of investigating,” he said.

MAP position

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) is siding with government officials who say that Chinese-only establishments should not be allowed.

MAP President Rizalina Mantaring on Wednesday said all businesses in the Philippines, whether local or foreign, must follow legal and regulatory requirements.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has said stores should not discriminate against customers based on nationality after Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged the government to shut down restaurants and other businesses catering exclusively to Chinese nationals.

“The DTI has affirmed Sen. Lacson’s stand that Chinese-only establishments should not be allowed as they are discriminatory, and we agree,” Mantaring said in a text message to the Inquirer.

The bigger issue, however, may not be just about Filipinos not being allowed into foreign-owned establishments, but how these foreign companies might be hurting micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

Under the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, foreign retailers can only enter the Philippine market if their paid-up capital investment is at least $2.5 million.

The Philippine Retailers Association said foreigners should not operate in the retail space reserved by the law to MSMEs.

Balancing act

Gatchalian, who said he was trying to perform a “balancing act” in Philippine-China relations, downplayed concerns that the “pivot” to China by the Duterte administration had caused “uncertainty” in the business climate.

“The government has pivoted to China because government saw the benefits. Now we are starting to immediately see and feel the good things,” he said, citing the growth in the number of Chinese tourists and investments.

He said the Senate was working on amendments to the Official Development Assistance Act of 1996.

“We are working on a framework on how government should borrow, so that at the heart of that framework is transparency, so that public will now be educated on how government enters into a loan, and we want the public to participate in the analysis of that loan,” he said.

The proposed measure will include provisions mandating full transparency where the disclosures should be “automatic,” Gatchalian said.

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TAGS: Chinese investments, Chinese workers, PH-China relations, Sherwin Gatchalian
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