Saturday, November 28, 2020

The multiple reasons why China is ‘least trusted’


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In the old public school years, the Gabaldon-type schoolrooms often broke out with the enthusiastic yodelling of songs of universal appeal, sung from sea to shining sea. A popular one was about a tea-carrying ship setting out to sail, supposedly into our shores, from China, “all laden with presents for you and for me.”

The song had an undying appeal and it identified with a time past, when ships from China that liter-ally plied the seven seas brought bliss and joy to those ships’ ports of call, the Philippines included.

That song’s appeal was greater in the Philippine context because of the enduring stories of the country’s early trade with China, which was trade at its best and its most beneficial. China had been our biggest trading partner during the pre-conquista years.

Today, the song has lost that appeal. The 21st century has shattered all the romantic notions of those early trade years with China. And the reason is simple. Toxic shipments from China have been leaving a trail of havoc and destruction.

(Point of clarification. The reference is shipments from China, not Chinese ships in particular. Philippine-bound cargo from China can be moved by four types of cargo vessels: ships of Chinese registry; ships flying flags of convenience —Liberia, Cyprus, Panama etc.; ships truly flying the flags of the owners’ countries; and the so-called “trampers.” “Tramper” is a maritime term that means independent cargo ships or free-lancing ships.)

When Filipinos think of shipments from China, what are top-of-mind commodities?

First, shabu, a national scourge. Remember two major shabu shipments that slipped by the Port of Manila, one a P6.4-billion shipment that was — let this sink in — processed through the customs “green lane” or the priority cargoes, which processing needed to be expedited. Under the watch of “Honest” Faeldon.

While the so-called Golden Triangle has been, indeed, the major supplier of illegal drugs into the country, the shabu component mostly comes from China. Did you ever read about a Laotian or Cambodian shabu chemist arrested in the Philippines? No, because most of them are from China and they build their illegal meth processing centers here with impunity.

Second is anything plastic and cheap, including toys laced with lead and extremely dangerous to kids.

Third, pork tainted with the African swine fever (ASF), which led to an ASF infestation that is wreaking havoc on the P250-billion hog industry. The introduction of ASF into the Philippines had China origins; this is a simple statement of a very sad truth.

While policymakers have expressed very little interest on the impact of the ASF, let me state a simple fact. In Pampanga’s Hog Belt, with a hog population of around 300,000 heads (sows, boars, piglets, weanlings, fatteners) farm gate is now down to P40 to P50 per kilo because of the sheer desperation to sell — at any losing cost. Farmgate used to be P133 per kilo on the average before ASF reduced the demand for pork by around 70 percent. Backyard raisers have all shuttered down. Workers have been laid off. Entire economies have been dislocated. The losing farmgate of P70 per kilo was during the pre-desperation days.

The sense of economic suffering is all over the Hog Belt. And after this pummelling from the ASF, Pampanga’s Hog Belt may have to cease operating.

But that is just one component, the trade and the cargo part. You may want to ask me this question. Is not China a generous giver of loans and official aid? The answer to this question comes from the terms and conditions of loans from China. They are basically cruel and onerous, one-sided in favor of China. Take the case of the P3.2-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project.

According to lawyer Neri Colmenares, the loan carries an unusually high interest rate of 2 percent per annum. On top of the burdensome interest rate — other creditor-countries charge .25 percent a year — the Chico loan imposes a “Commitment Fee” of 3 percent and a “Management Fee” of 3 percent.

The contractor is a Chinese company. Most of the technical staff would be Chinese.

But that is not all.

Most worrisome is a loan provision that would allow China to unilaterally grab a national crown jewel in case of default. If China wants to grab Rizal Park as payment in case of a Chico loan default, it can do so.

The payment for the Chico loan, according to Colmenares, is in the national budget. China made it clear that the national budget should carry the automatic repayment for the loan.

The Chinese institutions recently introduced into the country also contribute to the sense that China is not an ally, but just another country taking advantage of our gullibility.

Philippine offshore gaming operators, or POGOs, are Exhibit A.

These online gaming entities are banned in China. Yet, they act as if they were conquering Goths in our timid, subservient country.

The government is even clueless on the kind of taxes that they will pay.

They are the kind of junk from China that makes most Filipinos wary of China’s presence in the Philippines.



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