By Mario Casayuran
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said Saturday the public would now be able to scrutinize the complete terms and conditions of foreign loans entered into by the government to bankroll President Duterte’s various infrastructure projects.
This as Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee, lauded the Department of Finance (DOF) for extending greater transparency on foreign loan agreements, particularly with China, the government has entered into by posting them in its website.
He said the loan documents may be accessed on the DOF website by visiting https://www.dof.gov.ph/index.php/data/loan-agreements/.
These big ticket projects are under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program. There are some 75 projects embedded in the BBB program.
In his attempt to improve and modernize the country’s economy, President Duterte is seeking more loans for the country’s infrastructure build-up in the next several years totalling a whooping P8 trillion ($150 billion). The proposed Philippine 2019 national budget is P3.757 trillion.
Since infrastructure projects do not generate revenue directly, the country could fall victim to China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy and ‘’indeed, falling into a debt trap could lead to Filipinos’ subservience to China- second-class citizens in their country, just like it was during Spanish colonial period,’’ a private sector study showed.
The same study likewise stated that the Philippines is vulnerable to ‘’debt trap because of China’s high interest rates.’’
‘’Compared to Japan’s interest rates that range between 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent, Chinese loans comes with an interest rate of two percent to three percent which is 12 rimes higher that those from Japan, it added.
“We thank the DOF for heeding our call during the previous hearing on the BBB program to be transparent on the government’s dealings. I know that there is an FOI (Freedom of Information) directive, but it didn’t bar them from practicing greater transparency beyond what the FOI requires. This is to make the public appreciate that everything that is being done here is for their interest,” Gatchalian said.
“Mapapanatag na ang kalooban ng ating mga kababayan sa mga nagawa at gagawing pag-utang ng ating gobyerno upang mapondohan ang mga big infrastructure projects natin sa bansa dahil sila mismo ay maaring bumusisi sa mga kasunduang ito,” he said.
During the recent Senate inquiry into the status, sustainability, and risk of the multi-billion projects under the BBB program, Gatchalian called the attention of the DOF, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to exercise greater transparency on infrastructure loans after he failed to find even copies of summaries of different loan documents on their respective websites.
“Whether it be with China, Japan, or any country for that matter, it is in the best interest of the government to exercise greater transparency in the agreements it entered – even beyond what the law requires. Every Filipino has the right to know and understand the process, criteria, and methodology that the government employs when signing important agreements such as the infrastructure loan deals,” Gatchalian said in an earlier statement.
“I myself experienced difficulty in finding even just a summary of the loan agreements that government entered over the past years when I browsed through the websites of NEDA and DOF in preparation for our recent hearing on the BBB program,” he added.
The lawmaker reiterated his call for transparency on loan agreements during the Senate inquiry on the water shortage that has rendered thousands of Filipino families in the eastern portion of the National Capital Region without access to water, after he raised questions on the loan agreement signed by the government to fund the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project (NCWS-KDP).
He stressed that greater transparency is proper, especially at a time when “there are lots of allegations flying here and there” on the supposed preferential treatment and one-sided provisions for a certain group or country.
Data from the DOF shows that at least five ongoing big-ticket infrastructure projects are being financed through loans secured from Japan. China and South Korea are meanwhile each financing two on-going infrastructure projects under the BBB program of the Duterte administration.
“We hope to see that the principle of responsible lending and borrowing have been observed, not just to correct public perception but to further strengthen our economic partnership with our development partners,” Gatchalian said.