The latest statement of paranoia of Senator Francis Pangilinan inferring that China is launching a “soft invasion” in the Philippines because of the increasing number of Chinese retirees and workers in the country is not only absurd and far-fetched but for the most part, is simplistic and precariously misleading.
Such a paranoid statement coming from Pangilinan was supported by his ally in the likes of Senator Risa Hontiveros who said that “a staggering” four million Chinese nationals have streamed into the country since 2017.”
Vice President Leni Robredo has also verbalized her xenophobia saying that, “the number of Chinese in the Philippines are ‘dangerous’ to our national security.”
Senator Richard Gordon chimed-in expressing alarm over the number of Chinese retirees in the country.
These unsubstantiated and unfounded paranoia from these political personalities stemmed from the recent Department of Tourism (DOT) senate budget hearing, where Senators have questioned the practice of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) to allow foreigners as young as 35 years old to reside in the country as retirees.
Based on PRA data provided by the DOT, some 26,969 Chinese nationals have been allowed to retire in the Philippines, topping the list as of December 2019, followed by 13,912 Koreans; 5,951 Indians; 4,801 Taiwanese; and 3,950 Japanese. Other foreign retirees include 3,615 Americans; 1,836 Chinese from Hong Kong; 1,571 British; 778 Germans; 743 Australians; and some 4,069 unidentified nationalities.
When reminded that this policy was formulated in 1993 during the administration of President Fidel Ramos, and not the present Duterte regime, to court South Korean military retirees, Senator Gordon said, “I don’t care about Korea. We have a problem with our neighbor [China].”
Gordon was chairman of the PRA when he served as DOT secretary from 2001-04 during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He did nothing about what he is now complaining about.
Is this because he lacked the wisdom then because the Chinese started sharing its outbound tourist traffic only in 2016 after the term of President BS Aquino because the latter adopted a foreign policy hostile to China?
As of full-year 2015, we had only 360,000 Chinese tourists. In just three full years, this increased more than tenfold to 4 million.
Or is it because as a grandson of an American immigrant, he grew up in Olongapo City, heavily influenced by the US Naval Base in Subic Bay, a facility he transformed into a freeport zone as chairman of the Subic Bay Management Auhtority from 1992-98 and before that mayor of Olongapo from 1988-93?
George Siy, a Wharton-educated economic analyst and director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI), a Manila-based think-tank, however, dismissed fears of a China “soft invasion”.
Instead, Siy highlighted that the Philippines is globalizing.
He said, “our neighbors are also experiencing and managing to capitalize on the economic opportunities brought about by the ‘China wave’ to help fast-track their countries’ development.
Siy also noted that Chinese lending to the Philippines through concessional loans for dams and irrigation projects meant to create more or less 15,000 jobs and provide for the development needs of the country for decades. He said that “although some Chinese workers are employed locally for their special skills, far more jobs are created for Filipinos by the Chinese-funded projects.”
However, the IDSI director posed a caveat that like in any relationship, there are always issues that must be managed.
“Like a basket of fruits, there are always bad apples. We don’t throw away the whole basket. We manage the basket, remove bad apples and capitalize on the good apples,” he said.
He also added that “sadly, some isolated issues are overblown due to emotions or vested interests. Many developments are not reported while negative ones are headlined.”
Fake News on Chinese vs Filipino Workers
In the same Senate hearing on the topic of “soft invasion” it was asserted that, Chinese nationals make up 45 percent of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) “Binondo-Intramuros (BI) Bridge Project” while in the “Estrella-Pantaleon (Makati City) project”, 31 percent of the workers there were also made up of Chinese nationals.
Such contention was disputed by the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines. Ambassador Huang Xilian has expressed that Chinese employees only account for less than 8 percent of the total staff involved in projects being implemented by Chinese enterprises in the Philippines.
Huang emphasized that the BI Bridge Project has resumed full capacity currently with 128 Filipino and 37 Chinese employees working on site. The local employees account for 77.6 percent of the total staff with still more local workers to be hired as the implementation dives deep, while Chinese employees are mainly managerial and technical personnel.
Based on the latest statistics, about 50 large-scale Chinese enterprises based in the Philippines have employed more than 18,000 Filipinos so far, and the number is expected to increase in the coming years.
Huang further stressed that “Chinese enterprises in the Philippines have always attached great importance to localized development, always intending to hire local people as many as possible, being keen to practice technology transfer to the local and actively perform social responsibilities to better integrate into local society.
The operations of Chinese companies in the Philippines have been inevitably affected due to the pandemic and local quarantine measures. Nevertheless, some major Chinese enterprises still created about 38,000 jobs for the local society, while the local employee hiring rate accounts for more than 92 percent.”
Huang also emphasized, “as the bilateral relations between China and the Philippines more particularly on economic and trade cooperation further deepens, of China-Philippine, more and more job opportunities would be created.”
In the continuation of this column, we shall attempt to discern how for centuries colonial mentality has succeeded in embedding a lack of factual pertinence over what has in our history been an invisible contribution of the Chinese people to the survival and development of our country.
(To be continued)
Anna Malindog-Uy is president of TechPerformance Corporation and UDM Construction, Realty & Supply, Inc. She is a Lecturer on European Studies Program in Ateneo De Manila University, and District Manager and Local Lecturer in the Philippines for the World Mediation Organization (WMO) based in Berlin Germany.Thefounder and executive director of Peoples Partner for Development & Democracy (PPDD) and she was once the chairperson of the Asia Pacific Mediation Forum Summit Organizing Committee in 2013 and policy officer for European and international organizations of the Institut Europeen Des Hautes Estudes Internationales in Nice, France