Following reports that many Chinese construction workers are being hired in critical government projects, Senator Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday urged the Department of Public Works and Highway to give priority to the hiring of local workers to help address the joblessness caused by pandemic lockdowns.
At the Senate hearing of its P667.32-billion budget, the department admitted that in some government projects, Chinese workers accounted for 30 to 45 percent of the work force and committed to address the issue of foreign workers in Philippine infrastructure projects given that many Filipinos were out of work.
Pangilinan also urged the use of local products in government infrastructure projects to help provide jobs and revive the manufacturing sector badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in the middle of the pandemic. Adult unemployment rates are in the mid-to-high 30s. According to a recent SWS survey, our unemployment rate in September was 39.5 percent, comprising 23.7 million Filipinos,” he said.
Addressing Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Pangilinan said the big-ticket infrastructure projects included in the 2021 budget must produce significant and needed jobs for Filipinos.
On the projects funded by Official Development Assistance, Pangilinan said, the department must ensure that Filipino workers were given preferential treatment over foreign manpower amid the reported influx of Chinese workers in critical infrastructure projects, particularly the Kaliwa Dam and railway projects.
“Given the high level of unemployment rate we are facing due to COVID, is the employment of foreign workers a condition for the approval of these ODAs?” Pangilinan asked Villar.
Villar said the employment of foreign workers was not a condition for the approval of the ODAs, but sometimes foreign workers were hired for specialized functions.
He said the majority of workers in the government’s infrastructure projects were Filipinos, but some were foreigners due to the technical skills they possessed.
Public Works Undersecretary Emil Sadain said Filipinos still outnumbered the Chinese workers employed in two bridge projects in Manila.
Senator Bong Go called on the department to focus on countryside development through the creation and improvement of quality infrastructure to empower rural areas and decongest the urban areas.
Pangilinan encouraged Villar to give preference to local raw materials or materials with high local content in government flagship projects to help local manufacturers rebound from the effects of the pandemic.
With volume and value production indices contracting in the past three months, Pangilinan said, the manufacturing sector was one of the sectors badly affected by the pandemic.
“We have to support our locally made products. The DPWH, with the resources at its disposal, should also put emphasis on local manufacturers and local materials,” he said.
The department’s 2021 budget amounts to P667.324 billion, the second highest among the departments, and next only to the education sector as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. Its infrastructure budget is P637.885 billion or 57.61 percent of the total infrastructure outlay allocation of the national government.