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Avoid mistakes of past China deals, incoming PH envoy says

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Avoid mistakes of past China deals, incoming PH envoy says
'It's going to be quite a challenge,' incoming Philippine ambassador to China Chito Santa Romana tells the Commission on Appointments

MANILA, Philippines – Manila should avoid the mistakes of past corruption-tainted deals with Beijing, incoming Philippine ambassador to China Jose Santiago “Chito” Santa Romana said as he faced the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Tuesday, December 6. 

“It’s going to be quite a challenge. The key, though, is that we have the lessons of what happened in the past,” Santa Romana told the CA committee on foreign affairs, which recommended his confirmation.

Santa Romana cited the botched NBN-ZTE and Northrail projects, which had been linked to corruption, under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (READ: Why China prefers Arroyo over Aquino)

He also mentioned the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) likewise under Arroyo. Critics said the JMSU is unconstitutional because it allows Filipino, Chinese, and Vietnamese companies to jointly explore Philippine waters.

Santa Romana discussed this in the context of pushing for “economics, trade, and commerce” – not the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) – as “the driver of the relations” between Manila and Beijing.

Santa Romana told lawmakers on Tuesday, “We should proceed on this path with eyes wide open, knowing the lessons of the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking, knowing the lessons of the NBN-ZTE scandal, and knowing the lessons of the Northrail project, which are recent lessons.” 

Transparency needed

In an interview with reporters, Santa Romana explained that a number of earlier deals with China “did not push through” because these “got tainted with corruption and bribery charges.”

“The basic lesson is the need for transparency, the need for bidding, the need basically for due diligence and going down to basic best business practices,” he said.

Santa Romana, the former Beijing bureau chief of ABC News, worked as a producer and reporter in China for two decades. An Emmy award-winning journalist, he is also one of the Philippines’ leading China experts.

President Rodrigo Duterte nominated Santa Romana as ambassador to China on September 28.

Recently, Santa Romana joined former president Fidel V. Ramos in “icebreaker” talks with Chinese representatives in Hong Kong, upon Duterte’s instructions.

Santa Romana’s nomination comes as the Philippines seeks to move closer to China and Russia and away from the United States, its traditional ally. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email