PHILIPPINE lawmakers should remove Chinese loans from the funding sources for the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for next year given security and debt risks due to worsening ties with China, according to an investment analyst.
“Even if we increase spending for maritime defense, we still open our national budget to flashpoints that make our nation kowtow to Beijing,” Terry L. Ridon, public investment analyst and InfraWatch PH convenor, said in a statement. “Things may just cancel out and still leave us back at square one.”
Under the 2024 Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing submitted by the Budget department, six major infrastructure projects will be financed by Chinese loans. One of these is the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South long-haul project worth P175.32 billion.
Also expected to be funded by China are the Davao City Expressway projects (P80.53 billion), Ambal-Simuay River and Rio Grande de Mindanao River flood control projects (P39.22 billion) and Chico River pump irrigation project (P4.50 billion).
Bridges crossing the Pasig-Marikina River and Manggahan Floodway bridge construction project under the China Government Financing Facility needs P15.29 billion, while the Samal Island-Davao City connector project needs P23.04 billion.
“These projects often come with strings attached, including the potential for increased Chinese influence and the risk of falling into a debt trap,” Mr. Ridon said.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday night passed House Bill 8980 or the General Appropriations bill on third and final reading. Senators are still holding budget hearings and are expected to pass their version of the bill next month.
House appropriations committee Chairman and Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co earlier said the House would realign the combined P650-million confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (DepEd) to the budgets of intelligence and security forces.
The Philippines recently removed a floating barrier set up by China at Scarborough Shoal that blocked access by traditional Filipino fishermen, a sign that the conflict between the two countries is escalating, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny T. Pimentel told the ABS-CBN News Channel.
“It is correct the budget was already passed without any deduction, but… the budget that we passed last night is not yet final because we’ll have to go to the bicameral [conference committee],” he said.
Among the agencies that will benefit from the intelligence funds are the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), National Security Council (NSA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
“This move aligns resource allocation with national priorities, but it also raises questions about the transparency and accountability of such a large-scale financial shift,” Mr. Ridon said. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz