Good day. Here are the stories for The Manila Times for Monday, July 18, 2022.

READ: PH, China negotiate to pursue infra deals

THE Chinese embassy in the Philippines said on Sunday Beijing and Manila have made "positive progress" in their discussion to proceed with the railway projects in Bicol, Clark and Mindanao. President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. wants to renegotiate the country's withdrawn loan deals for the Bicol, Subic-Clark and Mindanao railway projects. The embassy noted that in the past six years, China and the Philippines have "deepened the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative." A total of 17 projects have been completed, and more than 20 projects are under implementation or in progress, the embassy said. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the implementation of some projects, hindering the site availability, causing delays of procurement, affecting goods mobility, it said.

REGIONS: Junk China loan, Marcos urged

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Representative and Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez has urged the Marcos administration to forego the Chinese loan for three railway projects in the country and explore other financing options. In a statement released on Sunday, Rodriguez said "the Philippine government has other funding options, which the Marcos leadership could explore." The lawmaker cited the international financial institutions and even the county's private business community to finance the country's major infrastructure. He said such options include multilateral institutions like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank; international assistance agencies such as the US Agency for International Development, Japan International Cooperation Agency and European Union; and the local banking and business community. The funding may also be sourced from the national budget, Rodriguez added. China's disapproval of a P275-billion loan to finance the railway projects in the country became certain when China failed to favorably respond to the Philippines' proposed loan package on or before the June 30, 2022 deadline.

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READ: Marcos renews call for Covid shots, boosters

In other news, recovering from a second bout of Covid-19, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has renewed his call to the public to get vaccine shots and booster doses. Booster shots, in particular, not only strengthen the immunity against severe Covid infection, but are also a preparation for the resumption of face-to-face classes next month, Marcos said. In a video message on his official Facebook page, the President said that had he not been vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19, his symptoms could have been "much worse" than a slight fever and itchiness in the throat. Reiterating that the effectiveness of vaccines has been scientifically proven, Marcos said Malacañang will now be closely working with the Department of Health (DoH), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Department of Education (DepEd) to expand information dissemination about the government's mass inoculation against Covid-19. He ruled out a new law to reinvigorate the vaccination program, saying that one is free to choose whether or not to get jabbed, but stressed a shot provides another strong layer of protection against the virus. He then noted that with his mandatory isolation over, he has resumed work at the Palace.

READ: MAP head eyes stronger govt-private cooperation

THE government and the private sector need to collaborate further to achieve a balanced and sustained economic growth, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) President Rogelio "Babes" Singson said. During an interview with The Manila Times Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dante Francis "Klink" Ang 2nd on SMNI's television show "Business and Politics," Singson said the bottom line should also include the recommendations from the business sector for the country to also attain "economic dynamism." He also took note of former MAP president Frederick Pascual getting appointed as the Trade and Industry secretary of the Marcos administration. He stressed that MAP remains non-political, and it wants to make sure that the government will know what are the priorities and important matters to the private sector.

READ: Potential of economic zones highlighted

CHARITO Plaza, the former director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), called on the Marcos administration to make special economic zones a priority in its economic agenda. In a roundtable interview with The Manila Times on Friday, Plaza said locators — foreign investors with businesses inside economic zones — still find the Philippines to be an attractive investment destination. She said foreign investors, who make up 85 percent of PEZA-registered business enterprises, are drawn to the Philippines because of its tax incentives, young workforce, English-speaking population, favorable character attributes of the people, as well as its geographic location and climate.

READ: Govt acts to stop clam shell poaching

THE Climate Change Commission will be working closely with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned government agencies to stop the poaching and illegal importation of giant clam shells. Undersecretary Albert de la Cruz over the weekend discovered while the commission's personnel and private volunteers were conducting coastal cleanup and tree-planting activities in Agno, Pangasinan, the poaching of giant clam shells continues. De la Cruz said the poaching and illegal selling of the clam shells, or taklobo, are no different from the "tuko" (gecko) scam of the past, where syndicates would pay locals to capture geckos in the wild. Enzymes produced by the geckos' gall bladder are believed to cure diseases, sparking the illegal trade. The reports turned out to be a hoax.

BUSINESS: Govt debt servicing higher in May

Over to business, the national government's debt servicing was higher in May 2022 compared to payments made a year earlier because of higher interest payments and amortization charges, according to data released by the Bureau of the Treasury. Debt payments were P57.44 billion in May of this year, up 51.96 percent from P37.80 billion in May 2021. Interest payments increased 16.92 percent to P3.81 billion, or 58.89 percent of the total servicing.

SPORTS: Gilas Pilipinas shifts focus on playoffs

Topping sports, the youthful Gilas Pilipinas squad in the ongoing FIBA Asia Cup has been playing so-so level of basketball through two games. The Filipino dribblers, who were playing powerhouse New Zealand at press time in their final assignment in Group D, lost to Lebanon to open its group stage campaign, 85-90. It was a defeat that most Filipino basketball fans thought should not have happened given that the Philippines (33rd) is ranked 22 notches higher than Lebanon (55th) in the FIBA world rankings. Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said that the loss was "a great learning experience" for the Philippine team.

READ: Opinion and editorial

Rigoberto Tiglao and Fr. Ranhilio Aquino are today's front page columnists. Tiglao weighs in on the controversial statement by actress Ella Cruz about history, while Fr. Aquino discusses on forming a government.

Today's editorial calls for the retention of the rice tariffication law. Read a full version on the paper's opinion section or listen to the Voice of the Times.

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On behalf of The Manila Times, this is Aric John Sy Cua reporting. Have a safe week ahead.