Everything seems to be going Duterte’s way. With Western criticism of his war on drugs and anti-human rights policies, Duterte has found a friend in China, a country that is not exactly famous for its respect and adherence to human rights or democracy, having been an authoritarian one-party communist state in the past 77 years.
Duterte’s relationship with China may be as personal as it is now official government policy. And it is paying off. In the recent UNHRC universal periodic review for the Philippines, only China out of 47 countries believed Senator Cayetano’s spiel on the Duterte regime’s “sterling” human rights record. The rest of the 46 countries did not buy Cayetano’s sales pitch and instead asked the Duterte regime to stop the extrajudicial killings under his government.
Apparently having a big friend to rely on and take your side in international human rights forums is not the only consequence of Duterte’s friendship with China. The friendship is no longer between him and China, but has become a new chapter in our foreign relations as the Philippines’ rejuvenated relationship with its most dangerous rival over its claims in the West Philippine Sea. A new economic paradigm for Philippine development is in the offing, and it eerily involves mortgaging our future once again to an economic giant, this time of a rising Chinese expansionism, even its own sort of communist imperialism.
Remember the past
The recent agreements on Chinese infrastructure loans, invariably known as the “Build, Build, Build” program tucked under the belt of China’s “One Belt, One Road” framework of financing international infrastructure projects to benefit Chinese trade and commerce, raise a lot of questions on the Philippines’ capability to muscle its own independent terms vis-à-vis the economic giant.
We can’t help but be reminded of our past experience of how our country was once bankrupted by a huge foreign debt contracted by an authoritarian regime. Is it too far off that Duterte will not only replicate the Marcos dictatorship’s human rights record, but will also repeat its debacle of ruining the Philippine economy with a huge foreign debt that our children will still be paying, long after Duterte has rotted in his grave? (READ: Ferdinand Marcos’ economic disaster)
It is the same thing Marcos has done to us. Long after he has been dead and buried – and re-buried even as a national hero at the Libingan ng mga Bayani – Marcos continues to burden the Philippines with the consequences of the foreign debt incurred during his time. It would therefore be foolish to forget our history, of how an authoritarian regime much like the present one has once bankrupted our nation in foreign debt, while amassing hidden wealth from international kickbacks and bribes.
Reliving the Marcos nightmare
This early, international financial experts are already sounding the alarm on the Philippines. The new loan agreements could increase Philippine foreign debt from $123 billion to $452 billion, making the country’s debt to GDP ratio rise to 197%, or the second to worst in the world. The experts warn: “Dutertenomics, fueled by expensive loans from China, will put the Philippines into virtual debt bondage if allowed to proceed.”
There are also warnings that some fly-by-night corporations with insufficient capitalization and track record, and identified with Duterte and his allies, are geared to reap the bounty in these deals, with 2%-7% in finders’ fees. Instead of Dutertenomics, we might be witnesses to Duterte Cronyism, a reprise of the Marcos business dummies of martial law, which up to the present control a large part of the Philippine economy after the monopolist growth of their businesses that were spawned in the belly of crony capitalism.
Economic imperialism of a rising giant, onerous long-term foreign loans for infrastructure projects at high interest rates, kickbacks for paper corporations and dummies, a dictator and his cronies. We might be reliving a nightmare. (READ: Marcos marked ‘golden years’ of PH economy? Look at data)
While we still have time, and while we still can, we should demand from the Duterte regime a full accounting of the terms of these contracted loans, the corporations and individuals behind the corporations who stand to benefit from them, the impact of incurring a huge Chinese foreign debt on our West Philippine Sea claims, and the capability of administrations beyond Duterte to pay for these loans other than by selling out our national patrimony to China.
A dictator once mortgaged our future to imperialist powers and bankrupted this nation. We cannot let another dictator do that again. – Rappler.com
Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since her arrest on drug-related charges on February 24, 2017. She is a former justice secretary and chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.