The file photo shows the new Philippine National Railway train cars. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The file photo shows the new Philippine National Railway train cars. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

LEGAZPI CITY: Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente "Joey" Salceda said that the country's development should not be used as diplomatic leverage after the Chinese government withdrew funding for three railway projects, including the anticipated South Long-Haul project that aims to extend the railway from Bicol to Matnog, Sorsogon.

"Japan has just provided the trains for the new North-South Commuter Railway Project a few months ago. And our countries are closer than ever. I think Japan will be very happy to take over financing a project that China has vacated," Salceda said in a statement.

The next step is not to try to persuade China to back us up again but to simply look for other funders, he said.

"Our development should not be used as diplomatic leverage among supposed friends. If they want to finance our development projects, they are welcome to, on the right terms. But if they don't want to, we can always find others," the lawmaker said.

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The loan agreements for three major railway projects in the country are now considered "withdrawn" after the Chinese government failed to act on the funding requests of the Duterte administration, Department of Transportation (DoTr) Undersecretary for Railways Cesar Chavez said.

Chavez said the negotiations for the three railway projects started in 2018 and have been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority to receive official development assistance (ODA) loans from China.

Salceda said this is the reason why he will try to connect with Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista and Incheon Metropolitan City in South Korea as former and current advisors of the Green Climate Fund to see which countries could replace China or take to proceed with the railway projects.

"I will try my line with both Secretary Jaime Bautista and my network as former Green Climate Fund chairman and current adviser to the Incheon Metropolitan City in Korea to see which countries would be happy to take China's place. China was not the only proponent of funding railway projects in the country, after all," the Albay lawmaker said.

Salceda said opening the public-private partnerships to new funders such as Singapore which invested heavily in the Philippine private sector is another option.

"Opening our project portfolio to more public-private partnerships will also open us to new funders, such as Singapore, which has been investing heavily in the Philippine private sector," he said.

Another option considered by Salceda is for the United States government to allow its fund in the country's ODA project as its strategic partner.

"I think it's also time for the United States to put its money where its mouth is about the strategic importance of the Philippines. South Korea even gave us more foreign aid and grants than China did last year," Salceda said.

"If China wants to build stronger ties, they are welcome to try, as all other nations are. This withdrawal does not achieve that objective. If anything, it compels the Philippines to seek closer ties with other friends — countries that may not necessarily be China's friends, too," the lawmaker added.