Hontiveros wants to bill China for PH coronavirus response
MANILA, Philippines — A senator on Wednesday wants China to “foot the bill” for the Philippines’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as reparation for the country’s losses due to China’s damage of Philippine reef ecosystems estimated at over P200-billion.
“The destruction to our reefs in Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands is equivalent to at least PhP 33.1 billion in losses annually, on top of other economic and health costs,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.
The senator cited a report by the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, China began reclaiming land in the West Philippine Sea in December 2013.
“China has been damaging our ecosystems for over 6 years now, which means our losses could already amount to over 200 billion pesos,” she said.
“This money is past due and could go to government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic,” she added.
This means the Philippines’ losses will only continue to grow, she said.
“The government already has a huge budget deficit because of COVID-19. China’s ongoing disregard for our own resources will worsen our economic standing,” the senator said.
“The government should demand what is rightfully ours and use this to help the Filipino people battle COVID-19,” she further said.
Hontiveros said the government should also demand the P50 billion in estimated unpaid taxes from Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO).
“Again, this is money that should be used to strengthen our health system, to increase the aid given to low- and middle-income families, and to help us recover post-COVID,” she said.
According to Hontiveros, the government can lodge a diplomatic communication either through the President or the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“Sabi naman ng DFA noon, nag-lodge na daw sila ng kung ilang diplomatic protests (The DFA has said it has already lodged previous diplomatic protests). These would be a very clear, concrete diplomatic action that our government can and should take vis-a-vis the government of China,” she told reporters in a later teleconference.
“I think the ball is now in the court of the executive,” she added.
Asked about the possibility that China would refuse to shoulder the cost of the Philippines’ COVID-19 response, the senator said at least it would be “put on record internationally” that the Philippine government is asking China to pay what they owe.
“Whether or not, na magbayad sila, pero ang importante we would have put on record internationally na sinisingil natin sa kanila para sa kanilang paglabag sa UN Clause, at paglabag din sa ating victory sa Hague Tirbunal,” she said.
(Whether or not they pay, what’s important is that we have put on record internationally that we are asking them to pay for their violation of the UN Clause and our victory at the Hague Tribunal).
Should there be no action coming from the government regarding the matter once Congress resumes session on May 4, Hontiveros said she would look into the possibility of filing a resolution.
“Basta ang importante na in one form or another, dapat mai-communicate ng Pilipinas sa China na mayroon silang moral at financial obligation…lalo na ngayon sa panahon na kailangan natin ng pera para talunin ang virus na unang lumabas at nanggaling sa kanilang bansa,” she added.
(What’s important is in one form or another, the Philippine will be able to communicate with China that they have a moral and financial obligation…especially in these times that we need funds to fight the virus which originated from their country).
POGOs are ‘just not worth it’
Hontiveros likewise opposed the proposed resumption of POGO operations in a bid to generate more funds to fight the pandemic.
After President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine, all businesses, including POGOs, have been temporarily closed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“There are essential and non-essential industries under the Enhanced Community Quarantine. POGOs join a third category that we might call ‘less than non-essential’,” she said.
Several committees in the Senate have conducted investigations centering around the influx of illegal POGO workers in the Philippines as well as various crimes connected to the industry.
“The government should not open itself to other problems that POGOs bring,” Hontiveros said.
“It’s high time we send POGOs home,” she added.
Hontiveros previously led an inquiry into prostitution and human trafficking linked to POGOs.
She also exposed an alleged multi-billion scheme within the Bureau of Immigration which purportedly offer VIP services to POGO workers entering the country.
In an apparent rebuke against the senator’s call, the Chinese Embassy in Manila slammed her remarks as “ridiculously absurd” and “irresponsible.”
The embassy said it has been assisting the Philippines in its fight against the pandemic.
“China and the Philippine are working closely to fight the common threat of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the embassy said in a statement.
“China will continue to provide our support and assistance to the best of our ability to the Philippines, and stand together with the Philippine government and people to jointly tackle the challenges and tide over the difficulties,” it added.
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