Senators want Pinoys prioritized in hiring for infra projects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 14) — Senators are asking the Department of Public Works and Highways to ensure Filipinos are prioritized when hiring for government construction projects.

The call came after DPWH’s admission that Chinese workers are getting hired to work for the government's "Build Build Build" projects funded by China.

During the Senate hearing Wednesday on the DPWH budget for 2021, Senator Kiko Pangilinan pointed out that 39.5 percent or 23.7 million Filipinos remain unemployed as of this month.

He said one of the most affected sectors is construction.

Pangilinan pointed out reports showing that in some Build Build Build projects, foreign workers, particularly Chinese, are getting hired instead of Filipinos.

“Earlier this month, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines raised the alarm on the alleged influx of more Chinese workers on critical infrastructure projects such as the Kaliwa Dam and a number of railway projects,” Pangilinan said.

“Given the huge unemployment rate we are facing because of COVID, is the employment of foreign workers a condition for the approval of these ODAs?” he asked the DPWH officials at the hearing.

Public Works Undersecretary Emil Sadain admitted that Chinese workers have been employed for two projects funded with grants from China.

He said for the Pantaleon-Estrella Bridge, 69 percent of workers are Filipinos while 31 percent are Chinese.

For the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge, 55 percent of the workers are Filipinos, while 45 percent are Chinese.

This did not sit well with Pangilinan.

“Mataas ang 45 percent, mataas ang 31 percent. No matter how you look at it. Halos kalahati pala iyong isa. Forty-five percent foreign employees, foreign workers,” Pangilinan said.

[Translation: Forty-five percent is high, 31 percent is high. No matter how you look at it. The other one is almost half. Forty-five percent foreign employees, foreign workers.]

He then asked the DPWH to double check if there was really a need to hire foreign workers.

“COVID is the game changer. We also have to change our way of dealing with these ODA contracts and pushing for and fighting for Filipino employment. Unahin natin ang ating mga kababayan [Let's put our countrymen first],” Pangilinan said.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar explained that foreign workers were hired due to the required technicalities of the job.

“It’s not a condition [in ODAs]. But these new projects, they come with new technologies and they do require some specialization. Therefore sometimes, in some of our projects, you see some level of foreign workers, not necessarily Chinese. We have projects with the Japanese, the Koreans. And they have special skill, special equipment,” Villar explains.

However, Senate Labor Committee Chairman Joel Villanueva pointed out that he was able to talk to local contractors, who informed him that Filipinos also have the skills to operate foreign equipment.

“I had a meeting with local construction contractors and according to them, they stated that they found it strange that public works projects particularly bridges magrerequire ng foreign construction workers. These do not require the use of specialized skills that only foreigners will understand,” Villanueva says.

“According to them in constructing a bridge, abundant manual labor which can be performed by Filipinos are the most important element. Even construction equipment in a foreign language, kagaya ng [like]backhoes and bulldozers can be operated by Filipinos seamlessly,” he added.

In the end, Villar assured senators that their priority is still to hire Filipinos in infrastructure projects.

“You have our assurance that we’ll be even more aggressive in looking and making sure that our labor requirements are increased especially for Filipino workers,” Villar says.