Philippines approves launch of $7.7 billion of infrastructure projects

PHOTO: Reuters

MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the rollout of 270 billion pesos (S$7.7 billion) worth of roads, railways, airports and seaports to boost economic growth, his spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Up for bidding and construction are the 653 km North-South Railway South Line project worth US$4.36 billion, and seven smaller projects mostly related to rural development, the economic planning agency said.

The latest approvals bring to 17 the number of infrastructure projects, valued at 500 billion pesos, that have been launched since Duterte began his term on June 30, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

Duterte in China to promote economic ties

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation" from the United States on Thursday, declaring that it had "lost" and he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.
  • Duterte made his comments in China, where he is visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally the United States deteriorate.
  • His trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said US$13.5 billion in deals would be signed Duterte's efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes in favour of the Philippines, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.
  • "America has lost now," Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People, attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
  • "I've realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world - China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way," he added. "With that, in this venue, your honours, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States," Duterte said to applause.
  • "I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us."
  • China has pulled out all the stops to welcome Duterte, including a marching band complete with batton-twirling band master at his official welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which most leaders do not get.
  • President Xi Jinping, meeting Duterte earlier in the day, called the visit a "milestone" in ties.
  • Xi told Duterte that China and the Philippines were brothers and they could "appropriately handle disputes", though he did not mention the South China Sea in remarks made in front of reporters.
  • "I hope we can follow the wishes of the people and use this visit as an opportunity to push China-Philippines relations back on a friendly footing and fully improve things," Xi said.
  • Following their meeting, during which Duterte said relations with China had entered a new "springtime", Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said the South China Sea issue was not the sum total of relations.
  • "The two sides agreed that they will do what they agreed five years ago, that is to pursue bilateral dialogue and consultation in seeking a proper settlement of the South China Sea issue," Liu said.
  • China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
  • Duterte's tone toward Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used against the United States, after being infuriated by US criticism of his bloody war on drugs.
  • He has called US President Barack Obama a "son of a b****"and told his to "go to hell" while alluding to severing ties with the old colonial power.
  • On Wednesday, to the cheers of hundreds of Filipinos in Beijing, Duterte said Philippine foreign policy was veering towards China. "I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there," Duterte said.
  • "So time to say goodbye my friend."
  • Duterte on Wednesday said the South China Sea arbitration case would "take the back seat" during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the issue rather than doing so himself.
  • Xi said issues that could not be immediately be resolved should be set aside, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
  • China has welcomed the Philippines approaches, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the South China Sea Hague ruling as null and void.
  • China offered fresh praise for visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, lauding "friendly" relations as the combative leader reconfigures his country's diplomatic alliances.
  • Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to cement his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing's sphere of influence.
  • Foreign policy under Duterte has dramatically shifted from that pursued under predecessor Benigno Aquino, who took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive claims in the South China Sea and won a resounding victory.
  • The move infuriated Beijing but Duterte, who took office in June shortly before the tribunal ruling, has made a point of not flaunting the outcome.
  • At a regular briefing Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was pleased to move towards resolving the territorial dispute "through consultation and dialogue".
  • "This is how two friendly neighbours should treat each other," she added.
  • "Anyone who truly wishes for peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia Pacific" should welcome Duterte's visit.
  • Duterte will meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his stay, and was also due to meet members of the Filipino community in Beijing later Wednesday.
  • On the eve of his arrival in Beijing, the firebrand former lawyer was quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency state media saying: "Only China can help us."
  • As Duterte has cosied up to Beijing, he has repeatedly denounced the US and President Barack Obama for criticising his deadly war on crime.
  • He has also suspended joint US-Philippine patrols in the South China Sea, and has threatened an end to joint military exercises.
  • The South China Sea is of intense interest to Washington and it has repeatedly spoken out on the various territorial disputes between China and its neighbours over the strategically vital waters.
  • Tensions have risen between the US and China over Washington's so-called "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific, a move that Beijing says is intended to contain it.
  • In an editorial Wednesday, China's nationalist Global Times newspaper said Washington had treated Manila "as a pawn", adding Duterte was now "redesigning Philippine foreign policy based on Philippine interests".
  • Duterte has said his China trip will focus on promoting economic ties.
  • The Philippines is hoping, among other things, that Beijing will repeal a ban on imports of its bananas - an economic sanction intended to punish Manila for its South China Sea stance.

Duterte has pledged to boost infrastructure spending to lift economic growth to as much as 8 per cent during his six-year term and spread wealth more evenly.

The Southeast Asian nation is hard-pressed to modernise its ageing infrastructure to attract much-need investment to create jobs and raise incomes in a country where more than a quarter of its population live below the poverty line.

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