Build, Build, Build ‘on track’


But Diokno warns of congestion, increased traffic as construction kicks off
The Duterte administration is “on track” to complete the infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said, but warned that Filipinos will have to bear with added inconveniences “before things get better.”

“Our plan is to complete the flagship projects before the end of the term of the Duterte administration,” Diokno said in a speech during The Manila Times 6th Business Forum at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City on Friday.

In a private chat with The Manila Times editor-in-chief Nerilyn Tenorio before his speech, Diokno said: “Build, Build, Build is on track. People should not be impatient.”

LEAD SPEAKER The Manila Times’ President and CEO Dante Ang 2nd congratulates Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, after his speech at the newspaper’s 6th Business Forum. With them are the Times COO Blanca Mercado and Management Association of the Philippines’ governor Eduardo Yap. PHOTO BY ROGER RAÑADA

Diokno was reacting to comments from Forum delegates around the table that they haven’t seen a flurry of construction activities around the country that one would expect from the much-talked about “Build, Build, Build” strategy under the “Dutertenomics” policy.

“The Golden Age of Infrastructure will not happen overnight but we assure [our people]that we are fully invested in this ambitious goal,” he said in his speech.

“We will be spending P8 to P9 trillion on these projects over the medium term.”

Infrastructure spending will rise from an equivalent of 5.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to as high as 7.4 percent of GDP in 2022, he added.

The government has packaged its infrastructure ambitions under the triple-B program, tapping overseas development assistance and other concessional loans for projects that, after completion, will be offered to the private sector via management contracts.

“For this year alone, P858 billion or 5.4 percent of GDP has been allocated to infrastructure development,” he said.

Next year, “we are going to spend P1.1 trillion more – that’s for 2018 alone,” Diokno said.

Seventy-four flagship projects have been identified and total costs have been estimated to reach P9 trillion over President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term.

Of the flagship projects, 18 – valued at P462.74 billion – have been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board chaired by Duterte.

A primary focus involves developing modern transport systems, roads and bridges, airports and seaports. Flood control, communication and information, as well as new cities are being prioritized. Another aim is that of job creation and unlocking growth across the country.

One project that is likely to remain uncompleted once Duterte steps down is the proposed Mega Manila Subway, which Diokno said would take 10 years to complete.

“Maybe if it will have 10 stations, we can finish five. But definitely we cannot complete it,” he said.

Ramped-up government spending on infrastructure is going to weigh on the national budget deficit, which Diokno said has been allowed to widen to as much as 3 percent of GDP annually, as agreed with lender International Monetary Fund (IMF), from about 2.6 percent in previous years.

“In May last year, before the Duterte administration took power, I talked to the IMF and I said I wanted to expand our deficit-to-GDP ratio from 2 percent to 3 percent,” he said.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno PHOTO BY RUSSELL PALMA

Diokno said the original plan of the government was to have a 3 percent deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3 percent from 2017 to 2019 and 2 percent from 2020 to 2022, to show some fiscal conservativeness, but the IMF said, “No, go to 3 percent during the entire term.”

The government intends to make up for the shortfall in the budget by reforming its tax structure. Under the tax reform bill approved by the Lower House but pending with the Senate, income tax would be cut to 25 percent from the current 32 percent.

“But we are going to recover this by taxing petroleum products,” Diokno explained.

To avoid the underspending that had characterized the previous administration, President Rodrigo Duterte has urged his Department secretaries to use their budget allocations for projects that would boost economic growth.

“The President kept telling us: ‘Spend your budget or lose you job,’” Diokno said, quoting Duterte as saying to his Cabinet.

Traffic to worsen
In the coming years, however, the public will have to bear with congestion and increased traffic while the government works on the projects round the clock, the Budget secretary warned.

“We will implement 24/7 construction, but it will get worse before it gets better,” he said.

Non-stop construction will be adopted next year and will be mandated in contracts that are up for implementation, Diokno said.


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