President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to remain a strong partner of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying multilateral ties are necessary amid the prevailing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis.
Duterte made this commitment in a taped message during the 17th China-Asean Expo (CAEXPO) & China-Asean Business and Investment Summit (CABIS) Opening last Friday.
“This important annual economic event is vital in strengthening multilateral ties between China and Asean member-states, especially now as we collectively face the challenges of economic recession and uncertainties due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in his speech.
He also expressed gratitude to China for its investments which have boosted global economic recovery hit by recession.
“We thank China for its substantial investments in trade, infrastructure, telecommunication and transportation that strengthened economic integration, productivity and financial stability in the region,” he said.
Duterte assured Asean member-countries that he would continue joining efforts in promoting the mutual prosperity of the China-Asean economic community for the years ahead.
“Let us ensure a harmonious collaboration among our countries and achieve the goal of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership under the blueprint of the China-Asean Strategic Partnership Vision 2030,” he said.
The RCEP is a comprehensive trade and investment agreement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its five free trade agreement (FTA) partners —Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South Korea concluded last Nov. 15 after eight years of negotiations.
According to the trade department, the RCEP covers one-third of the world’s population and one-third of global gross domestic product and export market.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier described the scope of RCEP as “more modern” and a “high quality FTA” as this include economic technical topics such as micro, small and medium enterprises, intellectual property, e-commerce, trade access, and other topics in trade in products and services, as well as investments.
China is one of the Philippines’ largest trading partners, largest export markets, and largest sources of imports.
The East Asian country also plays a crucial role in the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program by providing financing to a number of major infrastructure projects like bridges and railways.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Sunday called for the termination of the Visa Upon Arrival scheme for Chinese nationals, after the Philippine National Police reported that the VUA boosted kidnappings related to Chinese casino players and workers of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry.
“There is no stoppage to the crimes in the country being brought by POGO. We have proven in the Senate many Chinese POGO workers are customers if prostituted and trafficked women, at now, the PNP confirmed kidnapping cases are also POGO-related din This is all no thanks to the VUA scheme,” the senator said.
The PNP-Anti-Kidnapping Group’s (PNP-AKG) data recorded 24 incidents in 2017 and 2018, 35 in 2019, and two in 2020. Out of these incidents, PNP-AKG said that it has arrested 34 suspects of POGO-related kidnapping last year, and 31 this year.
PNP’s data also showed that there was no casino-related kidnapping in 2016, a year before the VUA system started. In 2017, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) began the VUA scheme after former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II issued Department Order No. 41, which allowed citizens of the People’s Republic of China to enter the Philippines without having previously obtained a visa from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“The VUA scheme is a dubious project. Our investigations already revealed that corrupt BI officials involved in the pastillas scam have also profited from the VUA system. Nakabulsa sila ng halos P2-bilyong kickback. Kahit anong bali-baliktad natin sa VUA, klaro na puro perwisyo lang ang dala nito sa ating bansa,” Hontiveros said.
The senator added that amid optimistic reports of COVID-19 vaccine trials, our borders may again be open to foreign nationals.
“It will be safer for everyone, Chinese and Filipinos, if all Chinese visitors entering the country apply for visas through channels monitored by the DFA. The VUA wa sjust temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, but this should be terminated. Air travel may soon continue, but I strongly suggest that VUA does not,” Hontiveros also said.