Secretary Raul L. Lambino, Presidential Adviser for Northern Luzon and Administrator and CEO of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), on Friday said that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will further enhance economic cooperation between the Philippines and China.
Speaking at the Belt and Road China-Philippines Forum in Pasay City on July 26, he said the initiative “fits within our framework for development,” stressing that “we need the mechanism of foreign assistance that is not onerous or burdensome.”
Lambino said the forum, aimed at promoting the global development plan unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, will further strengthen the country’s ties with China and foster cooperation and economic growth.
“It is one of the great initiatives of this century,” Lambino said, adding that China heavily and critically influences the way the Philippine economy performs.
Citing data from several sources, Lambino said among 137 countries, rated for 2017 by the World Economic Forum, the Philippines ranked 97th in terms of infrastructure quality, far behind its neighbors, like Thailand which was at 43rd and Indonesia at 52nd.
“Even countries like Botswana, Gambia and Kenya ranked higher than the Philippines in terms of infrastructure quality,” he said.
While the secretary believes that Philippine infrastructure building has achieved a significant pace under the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, it is the poor state of the country’s infrastructure that has been blocking the leap into developed-nation status.
“Philippine data on infrastructure spending the past 27 years show us why we are today in a catch-up mode,” Lambino said.
Citing data from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), he said the Philippine government will have to spend around P8.4 trillion from 2017 to 2022 in public works to usher in a Golden Age of Infrastructure.
In comparison, Lambino said Chinese infrastructure spending from 1992 to 2011 represented an unprecedented 8.5 percent of its GDP, which further proves that infrastructure is crucial in jump-starting an economy to become an industrialized one.
“Obviously we need to pour in more funds to make our infrastructure competitive,” said Lambino, hoping that that the BRI will fill the gap in the country’s infrastructure program.
“This has to do with developing the interconnection of our country’s numerous islands, and this means investments in the port development and the acquisition of sea-going vessels,” he explained.
Likewise, he hopes that this extend to Northern Luzon, where one can find a vibrant local economy in need of new infrastructure, like airport and seaport in Pangasinan province, and North Eastern Luzon expressway connecting Central Luzon and the Cagayan Valley region.
Meanwhile, former president and House speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday praised the China-proposed BRI, saying the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road “fits very nicely” with the Philippines’ ongoing “BBB” infrastructure project.
“The BRI fits very nicely with the Philippines BBB project. The Philippines is geographically located on a crop of trade flows so we are part of the 21st century maritime Silk Road,” Arroyo said during the forum.
Lambino concluded his speech by inviting the Chinese businessmen to visit Northern Luzon in the hope of getting them to invest in CEZA which benefited from a strong turnaround in revenues after a number of big Chinese companies invested in the free port.
Organized by the Global Times Online and the Confucius Institute of the Ateneo de Manila University, the forum was hosted by the China Public Diplomacy Association and the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
The forum was also supported by the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., LKK Health Products Group and the Philippine Silk Road International Chamber of Commerce.