Philippines-China relations

Occidental Mindoro plans ‘sisterhood’ with Chinese province…and residents react

Chris Burnet Ramos

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Occidental Mindoro plans ‘sisterhood’ with Chinese province…and residents react

ARRIVAL. Officials of Gansu province, People's Republic of China posed with Occidental Mindoro provincial government staff during the former's arrival in Abra de Ilog port, Occidental Mindoro, on June 15, 2024.

Courtesy of PIO Occidental Mindoro Facebook page

Governor Eduardo Gadiano says talks with Gansu province have been canceled after his constituents opposed the partnership, suspecting that the Chinese side might have ‘other agenda’

Amid China’s maritime aggression against Philippine vessels and the ongoing raids and investigation involving Chinese-run illegal gaming operations in the country, a group of officials from Gansu province came to Occidental Mindoro on June 15. 

Welcomed by Governor Eduardo Gadiano, the delegates from the Gansu Provincial Government Foreign Affairs Office and the Philippine-Gansu Chamber of Commerce came to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on their intention to enter a “sisterhood” relationship with Occidental Mindoro. 

The following day, June 16, the governor explained in a Facebook post that the relationship was “expected to give way for a deeper cooperation and exchange of information in terms of energy development, agriculture, education, trade, and culture,” and would benefit “the next generation.”

That MOU, however, will no longer progress into an actual agreement – if Gadiano followed through with his word on June 20. In an interview on local radio, the governor said he had ordered the talks on a sisterhood agreement cancelled. 

This was after residents instantly opposed any partnership with Gansu, suspecting that the Chinese side might have “other agenda” – again, given the hot issues on West Philippine Sea bullying and the POGOs that have become scam and trafficking hubs. 

Ipina-cancel ko na dahil nga sa nangyayari…. Nagkataon lang kasi na naging big deal sa ating ilang mga [residente], lalo na sa social media, dahil kainitan nga ni Mayor [Alice] Guo ng Bamban [Tarlac], tapos ’yung pambu-bully ng China sa West Philippine Sea, ’yung POGO….Talagang medyo nili-link nila,” said Gadiano.

(I already had it cancelled…. It just so happened that it became a big deal for some residents, especially on social media, because of the hot issue with Mayor Guo of Bamban, the bullying incidents of China in the West Philippine Sea, and the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, they are really linking them.)

Gansu is a province in the north west of China. In a Chinese media report, Gansu Governor Ren Zhenhe claimed in a recent press conference that the province’s economic growth rate remained “among the top nationwide for seven consecutive quarters since 2022.”

Hidden agenda?

Local news on the said partnership sparked concern among residents, with some social media users demanding that a copy of the memorandum be publicized.  

In a Facebook group named “Occidental Mindoro Opinion Board,” some commenters aired the suspicion that there could be a possible “other agenda” behind the sisterhood, pertaining to illegal businesses and activities beyond what the agreement would cover. 

Parang natakot naman ako. Dapat ilabas ng pamunuan ng [Occidental Mindoro] kung ano ang nangyayari. Ang gulo na nga ng issue ng Pilipinas sa China, tapos papapasukin pa sila sa probinsya natin?” one comment read.

(Now this scares me. The government of Occidental Mindoro should publicize what is happening. There’s already tension between the Philippines and China, yet here we are welcoming them here in our province?)

An official of Gansu, China, with Occidental Mindoro Governor Eduardo Gadiano
UNDERSTANDING. An official from Gansu, China (left) and Occidental Mindoro Governor Eduardo Gadiano show the signed memorandum of understanding for a sisterhood between their two provinces on June 15, 2024.
Assaults on Mindoro fishermen

The aborted partnership comes amid China’s numerous assaults against Filipino soldiers and fisherfolks in the West Philippine Sea, a maritime area off the entire stretch of Occidental Mindoro. 

In December 2023, Chinese vessel MV Tai Hang 8 allegedly hit and left Filipino fishing boat FBCA Ruel J. behind in the waters near Paluan town. The Philippine Coast Guard rescued five people who had been adrift for hours on the sinking boat following China’s hitting.

In 2019, a fishing vessel in the town of San Jose was rammed from the rear by a Chinese ship while it was anchored near the West Philippine Sea, leaving the 22 Mindoro residents in the open seas. Fourteen Filipinos also went missing in 2020 in the waters off Paluan after their boat was hit and badly damaged by Chinese cargo vessel MV Vienna Wood.

Just last June 14, a Philippine claim of an extended continental shelf before the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) underscored the existence of the Palawan-Mindoro Microcontinent, which serves as “the basis for the determination of the natural prolongation of the Palawan and Mindoro landmasses.” 

Beijing opposed the filing before the CLCS on June 18. 

Chinese power plants

Gadiano said the agreement with Gansu would have addressed the perennial power problems in Occidental Mindoro. They had planned to construct power plants in the blackout-prone province, he said in another interview

In 2023, residents of the province endured 20-hour daily power interruptions. The area was placed under a state of calamity. 

The province’s lone power provider, the Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative, entered an emergency power supply agreement that led to a staggering hike in their power bills. Omeco charged one of the highest power rates among electric cooperatives in the country. 

As of June 2024, Omeco charges around P21.00 per kWh for residential areas , depending on the district. 

This is not the first time Chinese officials tried to enter the Philippine power industry. In 2008, China’s State Grid bagged a 40% stake in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NCGP), which is the main operator of the country’s transmission network.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in July 2023 criticized the Chinese-backed corporation for failing to implement 68 grid connections, which resulted in unstable power supply in Luzon and the Visayas.

That same year, nine Chinese energy companies also pledged to invest around P760 billion in Marcos administration’s push for renewable energy behind the country’s preparation for a tight power supply in the coming years. They included China Huadian Engineering and China Tianying Inc., which both had renewable energy projects in Gansu province. – Rappler.com

Chris Burnet Ramos was an Aries Rufo Journalism Program fellow. He writes for The Communicator, the student publication of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Communication. 

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