Palace ‘unaware’ that banned China firm got Sangley airport project
MANILA, Philippines — Despite its P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds this year, Malacañang was “not aware” that a Chinese company that bagged the Sangley airport project had been blacklisted by the United States for its involvement in island building in the West Philippine Sea.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea made the admission on Monday during a House briefing on the proposed P8.2 billion budget of the Office of the President (OP) for 2021.
“I only read that in news articles. There has been no confirmation on the construction of Chinese bases,” Medialdea said when asked by Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite about the United States’ blacklisting of China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC).
The CCCC, part of a consortium that was awarded the Sangley Point International Airport project in Cavite, was one of the Chinese firms sanctioned by the United States for its involvement in the reclamation of disputed areas in the South China Sea, a portion of which is within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
The reports prompted a proposal from Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to rescind the contracts of all Chinese companies involved in island-building activities. But he later walked back his comment, calling it a mere suggestion after Malacañang rejected the idea.
“We are not aware of specific companies as of now. That’s within the purview of the Department of Public Works and Highways,” Medialdea told the House body.
He also claimed ignorance when pressed by Gaite if he knew that CCCC had likewise been banned by the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for “fraudulent practices.”
Medialdea’s comments, however, earned him a sharp rebuke from Gaite.
“The OP has P4.5 billion for confidential and intelligence funds, the purpose of which [are] to investigate matters on national security … We’re concerned that their sources are only news reports, considering they have the wherewithal, the resources and the funds to investigate these developments in the West Philippine Sea,” the Makabayan lawmaker said.
But according to Medialdea, the Philippines need not ban any company just because the United States did so.
“Let us give them due process. The government has an independent foreign policy,” he said to which Gaite retorted that it was not only the United States, but even multilateral agencies like the WB and the IMF.
“This is an intrusion in our EEZ. This is a major concern, and I think with the resources available to the Office of the President, they shouldn’t just rely on news reports,” he said.
“Rest assured we will look into this on our own,” Medialdea replied.
More than half of the OP budget, or P4.5 billion, will go to confidential and intelligence funds, the same amount as in the 2020 budget, and which critics have long flagged for not being required to undergo the same strict audits as other types of funding.
Deputy Executive Secretary for internal audit Alberto Bernardo said the confidential and intelligence funds were spent on a variety of intelligence-gathering activities for national security such as money laundering, terrorism financing, cybersecurity, counterintelligence, organized crime and transnational crime.
But Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago described the funds as a “black budget that’s not subject to scrutiny.”
“From 2016 to 2020, P12 billion has been allocated for confidential and intel funds. If we add 2021, that’s P16 billion, six times higher than the previous administration,” she said.
Elago pointed out that the money could be better used elsewhere, like the coronavirus response program.
But Bernardo said it was important that the government continued its intelligence-gathering activities during a crisis to prevent terrorists, money-launderers and cybercriminals from taking advantage of the situation.
“Are we spending the money effectively? Why not direct these billions in secret spending to programs that have mechanisms for transparency and accountability?” Elago asked him. INQ
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