Hurrah for infra!

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TITA C. VALDERAMA

LISTENING for just two hours to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) president Vivencio Dizon about the Duterte administration’s infrastructure program transported me to another country, a country that is on equal footing with its rich Asian neighbors.

Diokno and Dizon spoke last Friday at the 6th business forum organized by The Manila Times at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City. The forum had for its theme, “Philippines 2021: Toward the Golden Age of Infrastructure,” anchored on the Duterte administration’s legacy program dubbed “Build, Build, Build.”

Diokno, who has been at the helm of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for a third time since the Cory Aquino administration, was however quick to say that “with all these constructions,” things will get worse before they get better.

So, if it takes you two to three hours to reach your office and an equal length of time to get home, be prepared for longer hours wasted in traffic snarls.


“We will implement 24/7 construction, but it will get worse before it gets better,” Diokno said, explaining that round-the-clock construction work is one of the major reforms the administration has undertaken to speed up completion of projects.

“The Golden Age of Infrastructure will not happen overnight but we assure [our people]that we are fully invested in this ambitious goal,” the 69-year-old budget secretary said as if to psych up the public that the plans are in place and ready for execution.

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

But are funds available? Diokno said he was optimistic that Congress will be able to thresh out before yearend the disagreements on the proposed tax reform package that would raise an initial P134 billion in 2018 and up to more than P300 billion the next year.

He also cited the remittances from Filipinos abroad that could easily reach $15 billion a year, plus revenues from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

“Our plan is to complete the flagship projects before the end of the term of the Duterte administration,” Diokno said. “Build, Build, Build is on track. People should not be impatient.”

What if Congress fails to enact the tax reform package on time? Then, there’s Congress to blame. But with a “super majority” in both the Senate and the House, the Duterte administration should get what it wants legislated regardless of the impact on taxpayers.

Diokno stressed that the government needs the money from the tax reform package to fund 75 flagship projects to be completed by 2022 at P9 trillion. Of these, 18 projects costing P462.74 billion have already gotten approval from the board of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Most of the projects involve construction of modern transport systems, roads and bridges, airports and seaports. Flood control, communication and information, as well as new cities are being prioritized.

One of these grand projects in the pipeline is in Clark, the former US airbase, part of which had been transformed into an economic freeport zone.

A number of multi-billion peso projects at Clark are top-billed by an ambitions New Clark City that will host mixed-use industrial real estate projects and government center, according to BCDA’s Dizon.

It will rise on a 9,500-hectare land inside the Clark freeport zone with the first phase (construction of roads, walkways and parks) expected to be completed by 2022.

Another project is a P17-billion passenger terminal building at the Clark International Airport that will serve either as an extension of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) or a new airport operating separately. It is scheduled for a pre-bid conference on August 22 and groundbreaking in December this year.

Also, a P300-billion Manila-Clark railway project that will cut travel time from Manila to Clark in Pampanga to one hour is on board. The first phase of the project, expected to begin by the end of this year, will start in Tutuban, Manila to Malolos, Bulacan.

There’s also the P32.5 billion, 77-kilometer Subic-Clark Cargo Railway Project that will traverse the Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway.

The BCDA is likewise bidding for the P15-billion Bonifacio Global City (BGC) to Naia Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System in October. Project construction will start in 2018.

These projects are designed to develop Central and Northern Luzon as key driver to help in decongesting Metro Manila.

Can you imagine the traffic situation with these massive constructions going on at the same time? After five years when these infrastructure projects are supposed to be completed, will our lives be more comfortable?

It all depends on how the government delivers on its promises? If the President has candidly admitted failing to curb the illegal drug problem within the first three to six months of his administration, can we count on him to make up for his shortcomings and make good his grand plans in infrastructure?

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