Behind the scenes, as critics continue to pour cold water on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bold foreign-policy realignment towards China and away from the US, Mainland companies are already involved in the Philippines on the ground.
“Some Philippine companies have already partnered with Chinese counterparts willing to get involved in major infrastructure projects. China has been very supportive and we’re very thankful for their support,” Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) secretary, Mark Villar said on Monday in Beijing.
He added that the Chinese Government has also been assisting in feasibility studies for major road and bridge projects in which Chinese companies will later participate. “We’re looking forward to a very fruitful relationship,” he said. In short, contrary to what the doubters have been saying, the Mainland is already showing its commitment to helping to build the Philippines’ infrastructure.
Villar was among the Philippine delegation attending the One Belt One Road Summit, the mega forum held in the Chinese capital at the beginning of the week to put more flesh on the bones of the biggest transcontinental trade and infrastructure project mankind has ever undertaken. Its aim is to link Asia, Africa and Europe via a network of roads and railways, ports and shipping routes.
Prior to this event, the doomsayers were out in force. For them it had all the right elements; all the right targets – China and Duterte, two entities they never tire of criticising.
Writing in Forbes magazine on 13 May, correspondent Anders Corr had this to say: “The Philippines is at a crossroads. Duterte and his political allies are seeking billions in loans at unknown interest rates from China, whose companies stand to benefit by offloading idle Chinese industrial capacity to build costly infrastructure for which no proper cost-benefit analysis has been done … The Philippine people must be forewarned about the dangerous China deal. Buyer beware. Caveat emptor”.
Corr offers no evidence to back up that outrageous statement. We very much doubt that he’s visited the Philippines lately to actually see what’s happening there; to talk to local industry, businessmen, entrepreneurs, chambers of commerce members, exporters, farmers and so on. As far as Corr’s coverage is concerned our advice is Reader beware, Caveat lector.
This isn’t serious analysis, it’s propaganda. Last month in Forbes he was writing about the Philippine president again; this time with another entity of Western-media hate, Russia. That piece – ‘Duterte Of The Philippines Plays With Russian Fire’ – effectively says that if Duterte forges close bilateral relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he’s making a pact with the Devil. More of the lame.
We wonder why the Philippines has suddenly become such a focus of interest for Corr, the founder of New York-based “research provider” Corr Analytics. Certainly he’s not pulling any punches; how about this extract from his latest Duterte hit piece…
“Duterte and his influential friends and business associates could each benefit with hundreds of millions of dollars in finders fees, of 2-7% for such deals. Duterte reportedly sought to fast track some deals, and has publicly mooted the possibility of declaring martial law for a wide range of issues, including drugs, traffic, and the situation on Mindanao. Debt imposed on the public through corruption, fast-tracking or under martial law should be considered odious debt, and not repayable”.
What he’s doing in this article is raising the spectre of Philippine debt which, according to his analysis – apparently based largely on guesstimates of the interest rates on loans – could reach US$450 billion. “Dutertenomics [Duterte’s economic policies], fueled by expensive loans from China, will put the Philippines into virtual debt bondage if allowed to proceed,” he wrote.
Coming up with numbers just to make a case is not our idea of analysis, but if Corr wants to write about a real debt story he has one right on his doorstep. US national debt is presently approaching US$20 trillion. Now that’s a story.
He also seems to base his ‘analysis’ on the assumption that the US$167 billion which Duterte has pledged to spend to ‘Build! Build! Build!’ over the course of his term is all coming from China – no other country is mentioned in the article – which he describes as “the most likely lender”.
But, of course it won’t be. China had committed just US$19 billion towards a number of infrastructure projects which are expected to start very soon. That leaves US$148 billion to be found. Finance Secretary, Carlos Dominguez, addressed this while at the One Belt One Road Summit. “The Philippines is going to fund the projects in our own way. We welcome help from China, but that is not the main source of the funding,” he said.
This was underscored by Benjamin Diokno, secretary of the Department of Budget and Management who said this: “We do not stick to one country. We are not totally dependent on China for development, but we welcome any help”.
Corr’s article is beyond speculation; it’s close to defamation. By posing a ridiculous hypothesis – which is what this is because there are no facts to support such claims – Corr is seriously undermining the president’s standing in the country. And while Forbes has a negligible readership in the Philippines, it could deter investors.
Oddly, we’ve not seen an article from him yet warning the Filipino people to be wary of Japan; and yet that country is every bit as aggressively involved in courting Duterte as both China and Russia. In 2015 Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) to the Philippines accounted for a staggering 28% share of total FDI, by far the biggest of any country. Or South Korea, another massive investor – far bigger than China.
Meanwhile, large Japanese and Korean corporations are pouring billions into the place as they jockey for large transport infrastructure projects. So why no Japan warning? Why no alert to the dangers posed by the South Koreans? Diokno has said that offers of financing have been received from both these countries. Could it possibly be because Japan and South Korea are strong US allies while China and Russia are seen by the US as unfriendly nations? Or are we being cynical?
No doubt Corr’s anti-Duterte coverage will be applauded in some quarters – certainly among the Philippines’ Liberal Party and its diehard admirers. They love negative publicity like this – don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting for a moment that Mr Corr has been retained by the Liberals for dark public relations purposes, producing articles that put Duterte in a bad light. But they certainly could have that effect.
Corr claims to have “government clients” – we have no idea who those are but obviously China, Russia and the present government of the Philippines aren’t among them.