MANILA, SEPTEMBER 21, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy and Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will visit China next month purportedly to seek P8.4 billion in development aid, amid the raging controversy over the national broadband network deal between the government and Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said he would join the President on her China trip on Oct. 2-3. The President will visit Shanghai and Shandong before heading for New Delhi and Mumbai in India.

Yap said Chinese assistance is being eyed for at least four agriculture projects including the rehabilitation of the Agno River Irrigation System, which Mrs. Arroyo promised to prioritize in her State of the Nation Address.

The project aims to irrigate an additional 3,416.5 hectares of farmlands in San Manuel, Asingan, Binalonan and Villasis in Pangasinan.

More than 2,600 farm families are expected to benefit from the project, which is also expected to generate 1,200 new jobs.

The project is also expected to increase rice production in Pangasinan by 26,307 tons.

Yap said that he would also be asking for Chinese assistance for the Balintingon River Multipurpose project in Nueva Ecija, which he said would benefit anywhere from 16,000 to 26,000 hectares of farmlands in Central Luzon, including Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Pampanga.

Another project being readied for Chinese funding is the rehabilitation of the Navotas fish port.

“The Navotas fish port has long fallen into disrepair so we need to fix that for food security and storage purposes,” Yap said.

The fourth project involves providing mobile refrigeration facilities for fishing communities in various parts of the country.

Yap noted that several fishing communities do not have cold storage facilities for their catch.

“So these are four projects we’re looking at when we go to China,” Yap said.

He said his department would first seek the approval of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) “before we can sign anything.”

He said the government would seek a payment period of at least 20 years. He said NEDA is scheduled to discuss the projects today before they are presented to China.

It was in Boao, China where Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza and ZTE officials signed last April 21 the broadband agreement in the presence of Mrs. Arroyo.

When the alleged irregularity in the awarding of the contract unraveled, Arroyo administration officials insisted that what was signed in April was a supply agreement and not the contract.

They explained that a supply agreement alone is not enough to set the project into motion and that a loan agreement with the Chinese government is needed before the project can be implemented.

The government initially planned to have the project financed by the Chinese government through a soft loan with ZTE Corp. providing the necessary infrastructure and equipment.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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