Aquino hits loan deals with China: ‘Can’t we pity ourselves this time?’

Mara Cepeda
Aquino hits loan deals with China: ‘Can’t we pity ourselves this time?’
Former president Benigno Aquino III compares the Duterte government's deals with China to the botched Northrail project during the Arroyo administration

CEBU, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III strongly disapproves of the new loan agreements the Philippines is entering into with China, warning that the deals would be as disadvantageous as the botched Northrail project.

On Tuesday, March 26, Aquino was asked by reporters in a chance interview in Cebu City to react to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo admitting the Philippine government is powerless when it comes to determining the terms of its loans from China. 

“Parang ‘di na tayo natuto doon sa Northrail…. So ‘yon ang karanasan natin sa loan sa China. Tapos balik tayo doon. Hindi ba puwedeng maawa tayo sa sarili natin? Na maghanap tayo kung ano ba ang pinakamaganda para sa atin?” asked the former president.

(It’s like we never learned from Northrail…. That was our experience with loans from China. Then we will go back to them. Can’t we pity ourselves this time? Can’t we look for a deal that would be best for us?)

It was a swipe against his predecessor, former president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It was under her term that the railway project between the North Luzon Railways Corporation (Northrail) and the China National Machinery Industry Corporation was launched in 2003. 

The Philippines had to obtain a $400-million loan from China’s Exim Bank to fund the project, and sourced the rest of the capital requirement from the Development Bank of the Philippines. (READ: Northrail contractor got paid $129M more)

But in 2011, the Aquino administration scrapped the project because of lingering legal issues and corruption allegations.

He cautioned the public that the same thing may happen again with the present-day deals between President Rodrigo Duterte’s government and China. (READ: What happens if the Philippines can’t pay off loans from China?

“Bakit tayo papasok sa uutang na pinakita na sa atin na ‘di maganda no’ng araw?… Tapos sa dulo, bigla na lang parang sila ‘yung magde-determine kung ano’ng gusto nilang kabayaran?” asked Aquino.

(Why will we enter into a contract that will make us borrow money from a country that has shown its negative side to us before?… Then in the end, it’s like they will be the one to determine what kind of payment they want in return?)

In the same interview, Aquino also pinned the blame on Arroyo for the months-long deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate that led to the government operating on a reenacted budget this year. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.