Zamora-Arceo: China, friend or foe?

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte recently brushed aside suggestions to send gray ships to the West Philippine Sea after a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino boat at Recto Bank.

The Chinese vessel allegedly did the act intentionally and left 22 Filipino fishermen while their boat was sinking. Reports have it that a Vietnamese boat and the nearest Philippine Coast Guard team rescued the fishermen.

A lot of opinions were thrown in the hat. Others wanted a diplomatic protest. Others wanted our Navy ships there. And others questioned the sincerity of China's relationship with our state. Chinese officials said what happened in Recto Bank was but a common maritime incident.

And President Duterte took their side. During his speech at the 121st Philippine Navy Anniversary in Cavite, he said the politicians are not helping the situation. He said they are just making the situation worse.

"Banggaan lang ng barko yan, do not make it worse," the President was quoted as saying.

But was it indeed a simple accident? I don't agree. Actually, the reports were clear that the Chinese vessel intentionally crashed into the Pinoy fishermen's boat, as if bullying them. I heard Kabayan Noli de Castro interviewing the boat owner over the radio few days ago, and the latter said the Chinese have been very aggressive and offensive lately.

But why is President Duterte taking this very lightly? It could be because of his alliance with China, not only on issues of defense but also on economic agreements. I may not agree with him on his take at what happened at the Philippine West Coast recently. But I can understand why he brushed this off so as not to sensationalize the issue.

The President is protecting the state's ongoing agreements with the China government. To date, there are nearly 100 projects between the two countries. The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) has list of reports on China-assisted projects with an estimated total amount of P9.729 trillion. Few of the projects already started last year while many are still in the pipeline.

Among the few are the P2.3-billion Binondo-Intramuros Bridge Project, to which China gave us P5.7-billion assistance; the P3.6-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project; and the P1.2-billion Estrella-Pantallion Bridge Project.

Most of the projects under the Neda list are part of President Duterte's "Build, Build, Build" program and are mostly located in the South. There are also cooperation agreements on various concerns, especially in agriculture.

There is the US$325-million Ambal Simuan Sub-River Basin of the Mindanao River Basin Flood Control Project and the cooperation agreement to invest $160 million to produce hybrid rice enough to plant in 2 million hectares of ricefields around the country.

The Chinese government also donated US$14 million for Defense equipment, P500 million for the Bukidnon drug-rehab center, P17.2 billion for the Marawi rehabilitation, P1.4 billion for the Nueva Ecija drug-rehab center, and P1.15 billion for Marawi City.

It is really difficult to run a state, do what is expected and at the same time, win the hearts of the people. A decisive leader like Duterte needs to stand on certain issues with firm hands, but at times, he needs to bend his ego if only to save more.


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