On May 20 2017, ten foreigners were arrested by NBI agents for extracting black sand and lahar from the mouth of Macolcol river in Zambales province. NBI Deputy Director Czar Nuqui identified them as Zhining Tang, Liao Nantu, Yichang Lin, Zhibin Xu, Jingwei Chen, Hongming Zhou, Wen Haihu, Yong Wang and Tang Peilong, all Chinese nationals; and Afrixon Hary, an Indonesian.
The NBI received information that the dredging activities lacked permits to operate from the MGB, DOLE and the Maritime Industry Authority.
The suspects were arrested as they were caught operating the dredging vessel, siphoning black sand and transporting its cargo to the mother vessel. While the ship’s country of origin was still being determined, NBI personnel reported that the vessel’s name was “written in Chinese characters”. Seized from the operation were five vessels consisting of a dredger vessel, a tugboat, and three dumb barge.
Nuqui said lahar and black sand collected from the river were “intended for the foreign market,” as minerals such as magnetite could be extracted from these. The foreigners apparently were commissioned by local firms. The men are facing 10 years of imprisonment for violating Republic Act No. 7942 (Philippine Mining Act of 1995).
The infamous Silk Road of China was once believed to be the great artery of trade and culture that connects the West to the great kingdoms of the East. This belief is once again made possible through President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road Initiative.
The “One Belt” refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt while the “One Road” refers to the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. Jointly, they’re meant to be a revival of the ancient Silk Road trading routes. Under President Xi’s leadership, China will take those ancient trading routes and plow in billions of dollars in infrastructure mostly centered around transport and energy (roads, bridges, gas pipelines, ports, railways, and power plants) to connect various countries along the way. In essence, it will be easier to trade with China, the world and vice versa.
The project is considered as China’s masterstroke to establish itself as a world-leading economy and superpower, particularly in the South Asian region. China has already invested billions of dollars in several South Asian countries (Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan) to improve their basic infrastructure, with important implications for both China’s trade regime and military influence.
Critics claim that it facilitates Chinese economic and strategic domination of the countries along these routes. This is a strategy to push China to take a larger role in global affairs, and the desire to coordinate manufacturing capacity with other countries in areas such as steel manufacturing. This initiative will pave the way of extending Chinese influence for regional leadership in Asia (versus President Trump’s America First initiative).
On the economic front, China has been criticized for using its massive financial assets to dominate smaller economies through long-term control of infrastructure, natural resources, associated land assets, and through offering less than desirable credit terms for infrastructure loans. Further, the ‘production capacity cooperation’ involves the transfer of Chinese-owned production capacity to countries where production is cheaper that can result in China exerting some control over local markets, labor and export policies.
Where is the Philippines in all of these?
Plenty. Now that we are in the Golden Age of Infrastructure with a slogan proposing to “Build, Build, Build”, the Duterte administration has been making loans from its neighbors particularly China to help achieve this. The Duterte administration is making sure that this relationship will reap its rewards.
The brazen and aggressive illegal black sand mining that happened in Zambales is just a speck of what the China-Philippine partnership can do to our shores. With steel manufacturing a priority in China, the Zambales case is no coincidence and will most likely happen again especially now that the pact (and fate) between these two countries are inevitably sealed.