FOLLOWING reports that a lot of Chinese construction workers are being hired in critical government projects, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Wednesday urged the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) to prioritize 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 DPWH admitted that in some government projects, Chinese workers account 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 are 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 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We’re in the middle of the pandemic. Adult unemployment rates [per Social Weather Station] are in the mid to high 30s. According to a recent SWS survey, ang ating unemployment rate in September was 39.5 percent, comprising 23.7 million Filipinos,” he said.
Addressing DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, Pangilinan said big-ticket infrastructure projects included in the 2021 budget must produce significant and needed jobs for Filipinos.
On projects funded by Official Development Assistance (ODA), Pangilinan said the DPWH must ensure that Filipino workers are 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 Secretary Villar.
Villar clarified that employment of foreign workers is not a condition for the approval of the ODAs, but sometimes, foreign workers are hired but only for specialized functions.
Pangilinan also encouraged Secretary 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 pointed out that the manufacturing sector is 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 DPWH 2021 budget amounts to P667.324 billion, the second highest budget among the departments, 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.
“The construction industry has registered the largest drop in employment in the second quarter of this year, that’s almost a 30-percent drop. That’s why it is really imperative for government to be able to create jobs and also to protect existing jobs,” Pangilinan said.