ELEVEN SENATORIAL candidates clashed on whether the Philippines is falling for China’s “debt-trap diplomacy” in light of President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to China, and the administration’s drug war, among other issues during CNN Philippines’ debate held Saturday in UST.
The candidates in attendance were Rafael “Raffy” Alunan III, Gary Alejano, Glenn Chong, Neri Colmenares, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Chel Diokno, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay, Romulo Macalintal, and Erin Tañada.
Former Philippine National Police chief Dela Rosa pressed Magdalo Rep. Alejano on whether or not he has requested a copy of the loan agreements between the country and China from the Malacañang.
“[P]alagi niyong sinasabi na ‘confidential, confidential.’ Nanghingi na ba kayo ng dokumento do’n sa Malacañang?” Dela Rosa said.
Alejano filed a resolution last Mar. 27 asking the government to disclose the loan agreements it has signed with China.
“[M]alaki ang bansang China, maliit tayo; we would be at the losing end sa negosasyon na ‘yan. Dahil confidential, huli nang malaman ng taong bayan na dehado pala tayo habang kumikita ang mga ibang tao sa gobyerno,” he said.
China’s debt-trap diplomacy is an issue in international relations where China supposedly lends unpayable loans at high interests to third world countries who are forced to surrender their patrimonial assets as compensation.
‘Trash Chinese deals’
Election lawyer Macalintal said agreements between the Philippines and China not being a “done deal” presents problems.
“Hihintayin pa ba natin matapos ang kontrata saka lang tayo magrereklamo? Aanhin mo pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” he said.
Former Bayan Muna representative Colmenares also challenged the administration to present copies of the Chinese loans that have been straddled by confidentiality agreements.
Former Solicitor General and Artlet alumnus Hilbay cited Sri Lanka as an example of the debt trap. The country was forced to surrender a strategic port to China after failing to pay its 7 billion-dollar loan.
According to The New York Times, Sri Lanka also leased 15,000 acres of land to China for 99 years in addition to the Hambantota port.
‘Failed drug war’
Hilbay claimed that the president’s campaign against illegal drugs has failed and that Filipinos have become more critical of extrajudicial killings, which Tañada said has caused 25,000 deaths under investigation.
“If we want to stop the war on drugs, then we have to be sure those who are doing this get punished. The big problem is ‘yung tinitira nila puro mahihirap, asan ang mga drug lord?” human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said.
Duterte and his anti-illegal drugs policy have been condemned by human rights groups for urging the public to kill suspected drug personalities and addicts.
Despite conceding that a “drug-free Philippines” is still a far-off dream, Dela Rosa insisted that the current administration has done the most to attain it.
The senatorial debate was held at the Quadricentennial Pavilion. Among the other issues tackled were the country’s disaster preparedness and the system of checks and balances in the government. F ANGEL B. DUKHA III and CRIS EUGENE T. GIANAN