Probing Philippines-China Business Relations
PRESIDENT RODRIGO Duterte has been in office less than a year, but he has already gone on 20 trips abroad, eight of which were state visits, six were official, one was a working visit and others were to attend forums and summits. Each time he returns, Malacañang trumpets the “achievements” of each trip, mostly pledges of grants and loans. The largest pledge the administration has received so far has come from China ̶ a whopping $24 billion, or Php1.2 trillion, a large percentage of which will go to infrastructure projects and future investments by Filipino and Chinese companies.
The coverage of these trips has given much attention to events on schedule, the president’s speeches and his meetings with Filipinos abroad. But media has not subjected the journeys to much scrutiny, to the number of officials who accompany him nor those in the private sector who join him.
CMFR cheers the two-part series of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) which examined Philippines-China business relations and China’s multibillion-dollar pledge during Duterte’s visit in October 2016. The data-driven stories, presented with easy-to-understand visuals, analyzed an issue of great public interest.
The first part of the series, “‘$24-B’ not yet a cinch: Brokers stalk talks, contracting so tedious,” reviewed the Philippines’ trade partnership with China for the period of 2012 to 2016, the targeted projects, and the process of contracting out the project. The story also looked into how the agreements are attracting brokers this early and how these may fuel corruption.
The PCIJ investigated Philippines-China business-to-business (B2B) partnerships and found that 22 Philippine companies listed as proponents in these deals had no track record in carrying out infrastructure projects. Two companies were not registered with either the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Department of Trade and Industry. Two others were registered only after Duterte’s visit to China.
The second part of the series, “Manila, Beijing dating again: ‘Who is the screwer, screwed?,” looked back at previously forged partnerships between the two countries, including the botched ZTE-NBN deal in 2007 and the Northrail project in 2012.
Government has made much of this new relationship with China, claiming what the country has gained from President Duterte’s pivot to favor this Asian power. PCIJ has done well to alert the public that not all that has been pledged will be an automatic gain and that media should measure the gains and assess possible losses. It is also important to check on whether these deals will have an effect on the Philippines’ claim to the West Philippine Sea. The PCIJ has paved the way for the rest of the media.