Dev't aid 'highest ever' under Duterte – Dominguez

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Barely a year in power, President Rodrigo Duterte has managed to "singlehandedly" raise "the highest amount of foreign development assistance ever," said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

"He has raised, in the 7 months that he's been in office, through his astute diplomatic skills, an amount of almost P1 trillion," said Dominguez on Saturday, January 14, as he introduced the President during a gathering of Davao businessmen.

"I want to thank him because he has made my job as chief tax collection officer in the Philippines much easier," added Dominguez.

The roughly P1-trillion amount is composed of official development assistance (ODA) from China and Japan, both amounting to around $9 billion each, totalling around $18 billion, said the Finance Secretary during a press conference after the event.

This translates to over P890 billion pesos in ODA.

The $8.7 billion ODA from Japan was announced only two days ago by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Manila.

Aside from assistance from China and Japan, there are ODA from other countries Dominguez has yet to include in his count. 

ODA, according to Dominguez, means financial loans from governments, with low interest rates and long terms to pay.

The assistance from China and Japan will mainly be used for infrastructure projects for transportation and agriculture, he said.

Infrastructure projects to be funded using ODA from China have already been listed down. These include the Agus River rehabilitation project in Mindanao, irrigation projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and a Cebu seaport.

The list of projects was submitted to China last November 29. A team from the Philippine government will soon head to Beijing to discuss the projects.

"Our team is going to China sometime in the 3rd week of January to discuss how to progress the projects that we have submitted to them," said Dominguez.

As for which projects the recently announced Japan ODA will fund, he and other economic managers have yet to decide.

"We are going to start lining up our projects starting on Monday to discuss in more details the terms from Japan," he said.

Prioritizing Visayas, Mindanao

Consistent with the Duterte administration's pitch for decentralized economic growth, infrastructure projects in areas outside of Metro Manila and Mega Manila will be prioritized for ODA funding.

Asked if he expects ODA from other countries, Dominguez said he welcomes any as long as they "match our priorities."

"For instance, if there's an offer say to develop more areas around the Mega Manila area, that's not a  priority for us, okay? So we will tell them, well, maybe if you can adjust your priority and make it say, for Eastern Visayas, or for Northern Mindanao, or for the Cagayan Valley, or for the Ilocos, we will be more welcoming of it," he said.

The large amounts of ODA from China and Japan come at a time when Duterte seeks to forge an "independent foreign policy."

He has announced an intention to lessen dependence on the United States, the Philippines' traditional ally, and make "new friends" like China and Russia.

During Abe's visit, Duterte said Japan is "a friend closer than a brother." Japan, the US' main ally in Asia, wants the Philippines to use the Hague ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) against China.

But Duterte seems in no rush to bring up the controversial ruling, which China rejects, preferring to focus on strengthening economic ties with Beijing. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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