Assessing Duterte’s China Projects
- Jerik Cruz and Hansley Juliano
Since its unveiling to the public last April 2017, the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program has stoked fierce discussion and debate. Yet of the various facets of the program’s implementation, few issues have achieved the same salience and staying power as that of the implications of its China-funded projects. From the administration’s “pivot to China”, concerns have been often raised concerning the “debt trap” risks of China-funded infrastructure, as well as their putative linkages with worsened corruption, social, and environmental dynamics.
This paper examines the development of the Duterte administration’s present and prospective China-funded projects, focusing specifically on the risk of generating ‘white elephant’ projects. While the drivers underlying the selection and implementation of unviable projects have cut across administrations, the economic bureaucracy’s limited absorptive capacity to meet the demands of an infrastructure spending surge, along with ‘exceptionalist’ procedures in the procurement of China-assisted projects, have amplified the risk of generating white elephant megaprojects in the Duterte administration. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need for shifting away from unviable megaprojects towards more cost-effective and resilient infrastructure for the foreseeable future, which may require deferring some of the largest prospective China-funded projects. There is likewise scope for institutional reform in infrastructure governance processes, such as by involving third-party experts for independent verification and auditing of project approval and implementation procedures.