Malacañang said the country would not ban Chinese firms involved in reclamation activities in the South China Sea, and would not follow sanctions imposed by the United States against Chinese companies involved in construction activities in the disputed waterway.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the Sangley Airport project in Cavite would continue because the Philippines did not want any country, like the US, to interfere in its internal affairs.
In his public press briefing, Roque said: “I will be categorical: Sangley Airport project will continue. All other projects involving Chinese companies that are banned in the United States can continue in the Philippines.”
Roque said the Philippines was not duty-bound to follow US actions as the country was not a "vassal state."
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian welcomed the move, saying in a radio interview that all his country's projects here would continue as planned.
"The participation of Chinese companies and individuals in domestic construction activities is legitimate, lawful and beyond reproach, lies entirely within its sovereignty," he said.
In a statement, the ambassador stressed that China is "firmly opposed" to the US State and Commerce departments imposed sanctions on some Chinese companies and citizens.
"The move by the US side, under the pretext of protecting the South China Sea, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and aims to drive a wedge between China and regional countries," Huang said.
He also said China believes that the pursuit of an independent foreign policy "is in line with the fundamental interests of the Philippines and its people."
"I believe that any attempt to undermine the normal economic cooperation between China and the Philippines will never succeed," the ambassador said.
Roque said while the Philippines respected US’s recent ban against Chinese companies, Washington could not force Manila to enforce the same locally since “we are not a vassal state of any foreign power.”
The Sangley project, awarded last February before the pandemic struck, covers the first phase of reclaiming land for a new airport south of Metro Manila, which is primed to decongest the old Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s main gateway.
Under the project led by the Cavite province, contractors will fund the building of runways and ensuring that the airport will be able to host 25 million passengers a year by 2022.
Succeeding phases will see passenger capacity increase to 130 million annually by 2050.
The Palace official’s pronouncement gives way for Sangley Airport to resume but also for the P301.26-billion worth of infrastructures to be bankrolled by Chinese aid under the “Build, Build, Build” program, that has been delayed by the pandemic.
Reports said the Tan-led MacroAsia Corp. disclosed to the stock exchange that the company was looking at the national government for a final decision on whether to proceed with developing the Sangley International Airport together with the Cavite provincial government and China Communication Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC).
CCCC was among the 24 companies banned by the Trump administration from buying US-made products last week for constructing artificial islands in contested waters, marking a latest escalation of feud between the US and China.
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said he would "strongly recommend" the termination of local contracts with Chinese firms blacklisted in the US for island-building in the SCS.
“If I find that any of those companies are doing business with us, then I would strongly recommend that we terminate the relationship with that company,” Locsin said.
However, the Palace refused to follow the recommendation, with Roque saying the government would finish all flagship projects under the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program.
The Sangley airport project is a rare public-private partnership deal initiated by a local government. Most deals for big-ticket construction projects are executed by national government agencies.
In a related development, Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked if there were Filipinos involved in building the Chinese military’s islands in the West Philippine Sea.
“It’s been recently revealed that Chinese companies that participate in the building of military islands in the West Philippine Sea have projects with the Philippine government, so it is not hard to suspect dubious engagement by either party,” said Hontiveros.
She filed on Tuesday Senate Resolution 509, that seeks to investigate possible collaboration and collusion by entities within the Philippines in the construction of China’s artificial islands and military installations in the West Philippine Sea.
She added that China had been militarizing the West Philippine Sea by constructing long-range sensor rays, port facilities, runways, bunkers for fuel and weapons, and barracks for military personnel on these artificial islands.
“It is alarming that the island bases have put the Philippine archipelago within range of Chinese combat aircraft and bombers,” she said.
The Akbayan senator said this was a clear threat to Philippine national security.
She said the artificial islands were turned into outpost of Chinese maritime militia which “harassed Filipino fishermen,” she said.
Hontiveros also said that soil, sand, and other materials had allegedly been taken from the Philippines to construct China’s artificial islands.
“This should be investigated immediately and anyone found to have colluded with foreign powers to militarize the West Philippine Sea should be penalized,” the senator said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Leila M. de Lima said Locsin’s recommendation for the Duterte administration to review and cancel government contracts with Chinese companies involved in constructing islands in the Spratlys seemed to be a breath of fresh air.
Indeed, she said the Philippines "must follow the lead of US, and forthwith reject these contracts."
These Chinese companies, she noted, were complicit in the Chinese government’s open defiance of the 2016 PH-China Arbitral ruling on the South China Sea and blatant violation of the UNCLOS, as well as China’s unlawful intrusions into, or theft of PH territory.
“They are also stealing employment from our local workers because unlike other foreign contractors, these Chinese companies normally utilize Chinese labor.”
But, she said, such laudable stance on the part of Locsin was not to last even for a minute because in the same breath, he again rejected Ambassador Del Rosario’s proposal to bring the enforcement of the Arbitral ruling to the UN General Assembly, saying the Philippines would only lose to China, backed by several small countries.
“Beyond the tough talk, Locsin’s statement is nothing more than a reiteration of Duterte’s oft-repeated statement, a broken record in fact, that we cannot do anything about China’s invasion of the Spratlys and our EEZ in the WPS because we will just lose a war with China.”