Did We Build! Build! Build?

Posted by watchmen
May 3, 2021
Posted in OPINION

Consisting of over 7,000 islands, one of the biggest challenges that the Philippines face is its transportation infrastructure. That, and the worsening scenario of traffic congestion needed an immediate solution as it is seen to hamper the economic development of the country. That’s why during the Presidential bid in 2016, the solid commitment to progressive change proposed by our now President Rodrigo Roa Duterte becomes his strong and convincing point for the majority of the Filipinos. 

The infrastructure backlog in the Philippines propelled the notion of the Build! Build! Build! Program (BBB) under the Duterte administration. Flaunted as the “Golden Age of Infrastructure,” this reform program aims to expand the construction of facilities that in turn will drive economic growth and provides a solution to transportation and unemployment problems. It is also seen to eventually solve poverty per se.

The said program does not only focus on the expansion and extension of road links and urban transport. It also involves the rehabilitation of railways, airports, and seaports. Likewise, urban development like flood control and evacuation centers are also among the target of the BBB. But during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the priority shifts into the health infrastructure to lodge the urgent needs of the lacking facilities.

With what many call a highly ambitious project, a lot were also skeptical of its success and completion. Given, of course, the country’s not-so-impressive performance history on the field of infrastructure project and implementation. But this long-term investment, if accomplished with due diligence and scrupulousness, may herald the progress of the country. Yet with money passing through many hands, the imminent issue of corruption is still undebatable.

So where do we stand in the BBB program now that there is only about a year left in the current administration?

With more revisions to accommodate more projects, the targeted 75 flagship projects which expanded to 104 hardly reached the 50 percent completion. Most of it is estimated to be concluded after the President step out of office. This will leave his legacy of infrastructure project and restructuring along with the ballooning state debt.

Locally, the Bacolod-Negros Occidental Economic Highway is still way under construction. It kicked off in 2017 and is expected to be completed by 2024. The project was met with some social dispute in April with DPWH’s imprudent ripping of the decade-old trees lining Bacolod’s major highway. Meanwhile, the Bacolod-Silay Airport also has a pending proposal for expansion and improvement.

Only recently, the long-expected Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridge that the region looks forward to earned its major flop. The two-section bridge project was included in the BBB. In February, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar announced the commencement of the project no sooner. But some two months later, Sen. Cynthia Villar blew out the optimism citing that the Panay-Guimaras bridge is not a priority as of now.

The reason is the lack of progress of the Guimaras island, maybe failing to consider, the tourism industry that largely remains untapped there. More so, it has to do with the funding as the source initially should come from the Chinese government. But eventually, China had backed out of the project prompting Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to tap other countries like Korea.

And according to Drilon, the construction will now be left to the imposition of the succeeding administration. This meant that we will need to look forward to the policymakers who are willing to put a stake in the project.

Framing an infrastructure reform was not such a bad idea. However, it also has a lot of tradeoffs along the way. Aside from loans and grants with steep interest rates, it also poses environmental destruction on some scale. And with the Philippine government’s questionable track record in project implementation and corruption, it will remain as the same old ploy to electoral bid. It is not bad to dream big, but let’s not put our trust in ambitious projects that will only rip us off of taxes./WDJ

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