OPINION: Sen. Leila de Lima’s “Debt Trap” Resolutions

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 30 2018 09:30 AM | Updated as of Jun 30 2018 09:45 AM

Remember the celebrated “NBN-ZTE” scandal? That stands for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project for the country. Then President Gloria  M. Arroyo flew to China to witness the signing of the contract with  Zhonxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation (ZTE). Remember, too, that the deal was aborted because of the discovery that the US$329 million price tag was bloated by an almost 40% overprice. And of course, an under the table US$130 million.

Along this thread, let us also recall that President  Duterte returned from his October 18-21, 2016 state visit to China bringing home more than a dozen Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) as well as letters of intent, an attempted attestation to the new President’s credit clout from new-found lenders and financiers, meaning China. US$15 billion was cited as the prize brought home. Budget Secretary Ben Diokno claimed that the government allocated Php 8.2 trillion to fund Duterte’s legacy agenda, labelled “golden age of infrastructure,” obviously for political ballyhoo purposes. This has led to Duterte’s much vaunted “Build, Build, Build.” 

Might there still be a germ of an “NBN-ZTE” infection in Duterte’s financial transactions that time has not been able to expunge? It is a matter of the citizen’s right-to-know, most especially because the future of his country, even his children’s children’s, has been deeply hocked.

After all, it is this Duterte ego-tripping legacy agenda that caused the passage of the TRAIN law. That is the “Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion” law that this early has already burdened the economy, clearly impoverishing deeper the neediest most. Encumbering the future of the nation without as much as its citizenry knowing how and why. Debilitating effects now loom in the horizon.

There is nothing in the Constitution that mandates the President to disclose the contents and history of deposit/withdrawal transactions concerning his personal accounts in the Julia Vargas branch of Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI). His continued refusal to open up, however, has resulted in the common public belief that he is indeed hiding something. But evidently, Duterte does not give a damn. Be that as it may, Duterte will rise or fall when discovery occurs.

On the other hand, the very Constitution under which he was plurally elected (by 39.1% of votes cast over the 60.9% who did not vote for him, I will never tire pointing out) and by which he swore “to preserve and defend,” “execute its laws” and “consecrate myself to the service of the Nation,”  subjects  the President to an unequivocal  obligation, about which he appears to have been remiss.

Under the Constitution, the President is obligated to disclose financial transactions he enters in behalf of the Republic. He has not. This is what Art. II, Sec. 28 says: “…..the State adopts and implements a policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.” Corollary to this, we also have Art XII, Sec. 21 which says: “……Information on foreign loans obtained and guaranteed by  the Government shall be made available to the public.”

By the way, there is also Art. VII, Sec. 20 that bears invoking. It says: “The President may contract or guarantee foreign loans on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines with prior concurrence of the Monetary Board…..” One is led to wonder about compliance. Since the President  has bragged that the Constitution is ‘nothing to me,’ it is but logical to politely inquire. Has the President complied with his sworn obligation to first secure concurrence from the Monetary Board, as the Constitution mandates? 

Answers do not seem to be forthcoming!

Soon after Duterte’s arrival  from his October 2016 China loan-seeking  visit, Sen. Leila de Lima filed Senate Resolution No. 222, November 7, 2016. This was prior to the trumped up drug trafficking charges filed against the Senator and  before her subsequent detention in February 23, 2017. She sought an inquiry, (in aid of legislation, of course) “ON THE VARIOUS DEALS, PARTICULARLY THOSE INVOLVING  PUBLIC PROCUREMENT, SIGNED OR ENTERED INTO…..DURING THE PRESIDENT’S STATE VISIT…”

In last week’s blog, by citing that junior Senator Sherwin Gatchalian had filed his own Senate Resolution (S.R.) No.  759, June 17, 2018, seeking a probe on Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build,” I was bemoaning the thought that the opposition in the Senate missed an opportunity to exercise “oversight”  and “vigorous vigilance,” such initiatives being their “natural” turf.

Mr. Gatchalian is the chairman of the Senate’s Economic Affairs Committee. I found his resolution rather benign perfunctorily. Furthermore, I found him cheeky and selfishly immature not acknowledging or in the least referencing similarly positioned Senate Resolutions already  filed. Or, who knows, he may just be unaware of what comprises his concern as a Committee Chair, that is not the output of his own office.    

There are indeed earlier and more vigorous resolutions geared towards legislative inquiries about our Government’s China loans. My attention was called to the fact that these were filed also by Senator Leila de Lima, even while already in detention!  These re: S.R. No. 377, filed 16 May 2017, “ON THE POSSIBLE ONEROUS TERMS AND LONG-TERM FINANCIAL AND ECONOMIC REPERCUSSIONS” of the billion-dollar loansand investment package offered by China.   

And, S.R. No. 628, filed 14 February 2018, on “THE COMPLETE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THE LOANS ENTERED INTO BY THE GOVERNMENT TO FUND ‘THE BUILD, BUILD, BUILD’ PROGRAM,” assessing the possible impact on our economy and national security.

It might not be fair of  me to think so, but it appears that despite her solitary detention, it is Senator Leila de Lima who has expressed a serious concern, and made it of record, over the nation’s ‘being suckered in to a debt-trap’ more than any other in the Philippine Senate.   Perhaps legitimate media and supportive opinion makers ought to assist the political opposition in spawning “creative noise” about this “debt trap” and its implications. And by that I mean a clangor that grabs the attention of Juan de la Cruz and educates him towards righteous effective civic action.

It is a commentary, the verity of which enjoys near worldwide acceptance. “China’s ambitious use of loans and aid” (along with unorthodox incentives) is nothing more than “to gain influence around the world,” and for the long haul, achieve commercial and military dominance wherever  ‘debt entrapment’ has snared a prey.  

The latest example is that of Sri Lanka. Deeply entrapped in onerous debt, Sri Lanka allowed herself to be bullied into surrendering its principal shipping port, a failed investment derived from a China loan. Sri Lanka had to forcibly cede operation of the seaport plus “15000 acres” of real estate to China for the next 99 years, in settlement of the debt!

Indeed, there is much wisdom in what the former American President John Adams (successor to George Washington) said in 1826, long after his term. “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”
Not an alarmist I am, but the Davao Port Area or even Marawi City could possibly become China enclaves within Philippine territory!   

President Duterte may not have been joking after all!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.