Infrastructure: Key to a better Philippines


Because of readers’ interest and reactions to the column on infrastructure (“Why the Nation’s infrastructure is falling apart,” Times, September 23), I will continue discussing today infrastructure development and maintenance, and how this is the key to building a better country and national modernization.

Perhaps the best book on the role of infrastructure development and public investments in national development is Bold Endeavors (Simon & Schuster, 2009), Felix Rohatyn’s riveting account of how several visionary US presidents built modern America through well-targeted infrastructure and focused public investments.

Rohatyn is a respected US investment banker and former US ambassador, who as chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (NE York City’s fiscal watchdog agency) msterminded the Big Apple’s survival and recovery from financial crisis in the 1970’s.

In Bold Endeavors, Rohatyn contends that American infrastructure is in a rapid stage of deterioration, and he sounds the call for a massive effort of rebuilding in order to stop the decline and shore up America’s position as the world’s biggest and most dynamic economy.

10 transformative events
The book tells the story of ten transformative events in US history. He takes the reader on a journey through the past, and narrates how determined leaders found the will, steadiness, and political acumen to make the decisions that are the building blocks of American history.

The 10 events discussed are:

1.The Louisiana Purchase
With the American nation still in its infancy and George Washington recently dead, Thomas Jefferson took the historic decision to buy Louisiana from France instead of going to war with her.

After lengthy negotiations, the two nations finally agreed on a deal. the United States would pay France 80 million francs, a total of $15 million dollars; 60 million francs ($11,250,000) for all the land, and an additional 20 million francs ($3,750,000) for an indemnity on France’s debt to US merchants.

Both Napoleon Bonaparte and Jefferson—giants in their nations’ history—signed on to the agreement. On December 30, 1803, the deal was finalized.

The returns for the US were immediate. The size of the US was immediately doubled – 828,000 square miles purchased at the cost of about four cents an acre. War was averted. The Mississipi was secured for trade.

The long-term rewards were even more spectacular. The orderly repayment of US bonds during the next 15 years established America’s place as a world power, a responsible nation with the potential for even greater growth.

2. The construction of the Erie Canal
The canal opened a water route from East to West in America by connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean, by a path of integrated rivers.

After the 363-mile Erie Canal was completed in 1825, New York City became America’s chief port and one of the world’s great metropolitan centers.

The canal established the precedent, says Rohatyn, that “a visionary and innovative government can finance and build significant projects that will dramatically improve the nation’s wealth and quality of life.”

3. The Transcontinental Railroad
Abraham Lincoln laid the case for building the transcontinental rail line uniting the East and West coasts of America, and move goods from one end to the other.

Even as the nation fell into civil war, Rohatyn narrates, “President Lincoln found the vision and the courage to involve the federal government in the large challenges of building and financing a transcontinental railroad across America.”

On May 10, 1869, the railroad uniting America from coast to coast was completed.

According to Rohatyn, “the costs of this enterprise were huge and traumatic. Chinese workers died by the hundreds. Native Americans were massacred, and their cherished way of life fell into ruin.”

Yet the transcontinental railroad proved to be a shrewd investment for the government. By 1869, the railroads had settled their debts, and the government had earned a profit of more than $103 million on its loans.

4. Land Grant Colleges
The Morill Act of 1862 was a far-seeing national investment inspired by one of America’s founding ideals – “the enemy of American success is not failure but lack of opportunity.”

The greatest obstacle to the success of the land grant schools were America’s classical colleges. Harvard and Princeton University lobbied against the law.

Today, the land grant colleges are an essential feature of American academic life. Over 3 million students are enrolled each year in America’s land grant institutions. To date, they have collectively awarded 20 million diplomas.

5. The Homestead Act
On May 20, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law.

The legislation sought to provide Americans incentives to settle, farm and own land in the new territories opened by America’s relentless expansion – with the Louisiana purchase; the annexation of Texas in1845; the establishment of the Oregon territory in 1846, the Mexican secession of its northern lands in 1848.

The Homestead Act accomplished a great deal in helping build America.

Between 1850 and 1920, the number of the nation’s farms quadrupled, and a significant majority of these began on what was once public lands.

It was the largest transfer of public land to private ownership in history – a total of almost 300 million acres were settled by homesteaders between 1862 and 1955.

6.The Panama Canal
Theodore Roosevelt was the Panama Canal’s visionary and greatest champion. He nearly singlehandedly pushed a reluctant Congress into action, sent troops to the isthmus, and covertly fermented revolution.

More than 25,000 people died during the canal’s construction, the majority victims of yellow fever and malaria. The final cost, including French and US investments, was $639 million.

In August, 1914, six months ahead of schedule, the first ship traveled through the locks of the Panama Canal and made its way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

The canal changed America, writes Rohatyn. “It made the United States a stronger, richer, and more militarily secure country.”

On December 31, 1999, the United States ceded control of the Canal to Panama.

7. Rural Electrification Administration
On May 21, 1936, as part of his New Deal program to combat the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act into law, and established the Rural Electrification Administration. His great vision was to electrify and bring the boon of electricity to all America.

Within the first two years of the REA’s operation, 1.5 million farms in 45 states received electrical power from 250 cooperatives.

By the 1950s, REA provided power to nearly all of American farms. The default rate on REA loans is under 1 percent.

An electrified America was a stronger, better-educated, more prosperous, and more democratic republic.

8. Reconstruction Finance Corporation
It was Herbert Hoover who established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in the midst of the depression to lend federal capital to failing private businesses.

But it was Franklin Roosevelt, who had the bold vision to expand the RFC and transform the agency into the crucial financial engine that would drive the New Deal, and revitalize an economically battered America.

The RFC was the essential instrument that two very different presidents used not only to rescue America, but also to transform and rebuild the country.

9. The GI Bill
On June 22, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the GI Bill.

The GI Bill offered four revolutionary benefits to any World War II veteran who had served at least 90 days after September, 16, 1940. These benefits were:

The opportunity of resuming education or technical training after discharge, for which the government would pay up to $500 per school year, and provide a monthly allowance while the veteran was enrolled.

Vocational education and on-the-job training.

Housing and business loans guaranteed by the government.

Unemployment benefits of $20 per week for up to a year.

By the end of the program in 1956, out of a veteran population of over 15.4 million, more than half – about 7.8 million veterans – participated in traditional education or vocational programs.

The total cost of the program was $14.5 billion. Yet the return on this colossal investment was nothing less than the creation of a knowledge-driven America – the society that provided the economic engine for the second half of the 20th century.

10. The Interstate highway System
On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law.

As a young lieutenant in the US military, he had a vision of an America connected by a network of smoothly paved high-speed roads.

In Rohatyn’s account: “The insterstate highway system was a monumental construction project, an engineering feat that went on for 40 years rather then the 13 that was promised in the original legislation.”

Safe and readily accessible roads for high-speed automobile travel led to a building boom that revitalized the US economy.

In the end, says Rohatyn, “it was a president’s sense of commitment that changed America. It was bold and tenacious leadership that led the nation to make the colossal investment in its infrastructure.”

Public investment: An activist tradition
Rohatyn wrote Bold Endeavors to reaffirm what he calls “the activist tradition of public investment.”

America’s ascendancy in the world was facilitated by leaders who invested money to build a country that worked. “It was the extensive and innovative infrastructure that made life in the United states more comfortable, more egalitarian, and more secure.”

The same belief and commitment to infrastructure is what is called for in our dream of a better Philippines and a higher quality of life for all Filipinos.

We need leaders who can make this dream come alive in our country.

That window of opportunity is behind President Aquino now. He has only 19 months left in his term. But he can contribute to building a better country, if he devotes his energies towards funding better infrastructure projects instead of wasting public money on DAP schemes.


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  1. redentor pajara on

    There are lots of great minds in our government institution, the only lacking value is “DELICADEZA” which is one of a kind. This is heavily Endangered specy in Philippine Politics or it has already been extinct.

  2. when i came to the states as an immigrant from the philippines in 1986, i joined the u.s army a year and a half later and enlisted at the age of 29 for a total commitment of 8 years. i remember one day out in the field doing field excercises (war games). when lunch came, everybody joined the chow line. i was in the tent with my battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel. i was a specialist 4, a rank higher than a private first class. i told him respectfully that lunch is being served and he might want to go ahead and join the chow line. he declined saying that he will let everybody eat first. and that whatever is left, he’ll be more than happy to eat. i wish this is how we have it in government in the philippines. but no. the ones in power expect to be served first before serving those below them. what a shame.

  3. The thing that lacking is we don’t have a visionary President, and dynamic, that can decide strongly and precise. Even it will cost history. No matter what, we have a leaders who are for good looks and bearing merits only. But it’s a total failure because always hold by a party decision and not by a President Vision. That’s what it takes to become a poor and backward nation. Look at our neighbors enjoying the fruits of their labor, because they make that bold step to decision, even majority seems so opposition, but what happen after years of formation, now they are truly transform. But poor Philippines need a hero that can overhaul the system, and changed into no influence, practice delicadeza, integrity, and palabra de Honor. Hardworking not laziness, and illicit activities.

  4. It is sad to realize that we haven’t had the leaders to take the Philippines beyond the politics of attacking the one who preceded you. Nothing is ever carried on from one president to another. Nothing is done only for the good of the country and the people. What we get are repairs to what is already existing. I would love to hear any plan that talks about the year 2030, 2040, or 2050. Then I would know someone is thinking about the future.

  5. I definitely agree that we need visionary leaders that sees beyond their term limits with regards to pursuing infrastructure projects. But first we need a vision on what we want to achieve with our present woes (eg. traffic, flooding, decrepit airport, etc.). And we need to think big! Megaprojects that would accomodate the population expansion in 50 years (or more) to the future. Here’s an example: couple of years ago, when the issue of decrepit NAIA first came up & post-Typhoon Pedring & Typhoon Quiel aftermath were the rage, I proposed a comprehensive plan on how to address these (and more) by doing mega-projects that are intertwined with each other. This plan even included some ideas on how to finance these megaprojects and the policies needed to make it work and how to provide continuity without interference by the incumbent and partisan politics. Perhaps take a look ( browse thru page 6-9 on )

  6. We have Presidents/Governments who come and go. What we need are institutions and the great minds who will advise and push these transients the essense of continuity in public infrastructure and services.
    Thats what we do not have. Continuity. And most importantly the thing that binds generations of Filipinos – Imagination.
    If we all can imagine a better Philippines real tangible terms then we can actually have a better future with better infrustructure if only we dont destroy whats alraedy been built or stop whats alraedy been started.
    Basically use Common Sense.

  7. Mr Rhee the director for Asia-Pacific at the IMF says very much the same thing on his visit to Manila. He calls upon the Govt to spend more on infrastructure. He also said the Philippines needs to open up to foreign competition to improve efficiency. And indeed in the World Competitiveness Report infrastructure is one of the main factors that determine a country’s ranking. But we don’t have to go far to convince ourselves. Our close neighbors Singapore and Malaysia owe their 3rd and 12th spots in the World Ranking to their government efficiency, economic performance, business efficiency and infrastructure. Our economic planners all know this.

  8. Over and above infrastructure, the key to having a better Philippines is to have visionary leaders. The present and aspiring crop of leaders we have are a far cry from the Lincolns,Roosevelts, Hoovers et al of America.

  9. This country greatly needs to shift our paradigm and re-focus our societal vision. For decades, we hava let our vision set through legal intricacies and complicities. This has resulted to the mis-directed glorification of the legal profession and institutions. National adoration and adulation of bar topnotchers is being signified by the frontpage captions being bannerd by all the national dailies in every annual result. Perceptions of most Filipinos for the Congress is to craft laws and less of funds allocations for the national infrastructures. National interests and pastime rest on exposes of officials commiting legal infractions drawing attention away from the supervening necessity for national economic development. No wonder, technocrats, financial experts and engineers shy from an elective position and government responsibility. This make our governance more of unscrambling and fixing the resulting legal maze created by the unqualified and incompetent members of the government apparatus instead of promoting national infrastructure projects and authentic economic program needed for national economic development. We Filipinos felt insulted by the statement of Aegis Malaysia, among others, on our underdeveloped infrastructures compared to Malaysia’s. Instead of complaining and going after them, we should accept it as a national challenge since it is really correct.

  10. Thank you for a very inspiring piece, Mr Makabenta. One take away from your piece largely based on Mr Rohatyn’s book is that these major infra investments are the work not of a single president but a succession of good and visionary leaders. It seems that the US presidents cited here built on the good deeds of their predecessors and more importantly, improved their vision. Good leaders are actually like that; building on the efforts of previous leaders. I do hope we will have leaders that can somehow start to dream beyond their own 6 year terms, beyond safeguarding what they think are their legacies and instead, work towards a bold vision for our country.

  11. Antonio Javier Belzunce on

    Before we can indulge ourselves with civil constructive infrastructure we must first address the complete administrative government infrastructure that ensures proper governance through defined working policies, procedures that maintains accuracy and efficiency, guidance for proper direction in work practices and hence a standard that ensures proper integrity and accuracy of both the works and the workflows.

    You do not need books to address this issues but to employ management base leaders rather than lawyers to lead the departments to ensure proper adaptation and implementation of working administrative infrastructure.

    If that is in place your civil infrastructure projects will get the proper attention it needs with proper planning including proper assessment for beautification of the nation and less bureaucratic interference including corruption.

  12. mr makabenta sa inyong kolumn ko po babangitin na tutukan ng bayan
    ang isiniwalat kamakailan ni ms. maria reza, duon sa binili ng DND, team
    gasmin sa “STONE OF DAVID” na nagkakahalaga ng kulang kulang o
    mahigit 200 milyong piso, na 2000 libong piraso ng bullet proof vest na
    gawa sa serbia. Ang nasabing mga vest ay di pumasa sa U.S. and Phil.
    Afp, standard kaya ipinatigil ng COA ang pagbabayad.
    Ang owner ng Stone of David na si ms. Jo ay ang Napoles ng Defence,
    sa labis at sa dami ng nakurakot sa AFP, DND, SND. mula sa isang
    maliit na kumpaniya, siya na ngayon ang pumalit sa nabakanteng
    papel ni Napoles, nagmamay-ari siya ng isang floor sa isang magarang
    Condo Office Building sa D’Fort, at kasalukuyang nagpapatayo ng napaka-
    laking Mansion sa Mc. Kinley hills na maluluma ang fort knox o White
    House sa dami ng high mga high tech gadjet mapa opisina o sa kaniyang
    itinatayong pagkalaking Mansion.
    Sa huling ulat, mukhang lulutuin ng team gasmin sa pamumuno ng 2
    alipores nasi usec manalo at asec veles na palusutin ang nasabing
    mga Vest project para mabayaran gamit ang malaking pondo ng
    DAP ni gasmin para hindi mapuna ng mga nakamasid sa kanila.
    Kailangan na din mabigyan ng Pansin kung sino itong bagong
    Napoles ng DND, SND, na si ms Jo, na kumokontrol ng mahigit
    sa 50% ng transaksyon ng modernization kuno ni gasmin gamit
    ang ibat ibang kumpaniya na pawang siya ang may-ari. Si
    ms Jo ang reyna at may control sa 100% na munition na ginagamit
    ng buong AFP, dahil sa todo lakas niya sa team gasmin. Gaya ni
    Napoles bag, bag din na prutas o sandwich ang pina dinidiliver niya
    sa team gasmin lalo kung may mga junket trip sa abroad, at mas
    malaking bag kung si SND mismo ang bumibisita sa mga supplier
    sa abroad. Kaya pag dumadating si ms Jo sa DND, talo pa
    si mr Clean kung Saludarin siya ng mga amuyong ni SND.
    Gaya ni Napoles ang asawa ni Ms. jo ay mayroon ding katakot
    takot na bagong mamahaling kotse at SUV. Lamborgini, ferrari, benz.
    at pwdeng…

  13. Beautiful piece, Mr. Makabenta!! I wish you withhold yourself in the six last words. For all the inspiring positive words only to end in negative. I do believe you try to give what is best for the Filipino people, which other columnists, not necessarily of this paper, take the opportunity to promote themselves. That kind ending could be very contagious. You see!

  14. Yes, infrastructure is the key–not political machinations which Aquino and Abad and their close partners in crime carried out in 2010. They cancelled and suspended good ongoing and still to-be-launched infrastructure projects and pograms that were painstakingly prepared and properly budgeted for in the Arroyo administration so that they could invent the illegal and unconstitutional DAP. The result? The GDP crashed in 2010 from the high that the Arroyo administration had set.
    And yet Aquino and Abad et al. have not had the decency, the common honesty to admit their mistakes, because these are really CRIMES,

  15. indeed!!! infrastracture is key to a better philippines. but for as long as we have people in government who pockets the filipino taxpayer’s money first before it gets to be spent wisely on major projects, then we can all kiss that idea goodbye. it is almost safe to say that people in government are inherently corrupt. they came to their office to serve but have long since left, served. with the filipino taxpayer’s money.

  16. Andres R. Samson on

    Any 5 years service for US military personnel are treated as 24 hours service and anyone who completes the first enlistment term is immediately classified as having contributed 40 quarters to the Social Security Benefits System. In PH many laws have been passed adjusting the entitlements of retired veterans with a minimum of 20 years of service but the never funded. For those that finally got funded, the Cost of Living Allowance adjustments (COLA), often come in very late. Extant laws like the PD1638 have been exploited by those who control the Pensions and Gratuity of retired people by inventing a B4 Account wherein unsuspecting retirees or their legal beneficiaries are mulcted of 50% of their earned pensions. Under jus cogens and many other case laws in advanced and developed countries, pensions are a matter of earned right and cannot be subject to a novation. Even PH contract laws are explicit on these. And yet P&G of retired AFP personnel have been exploited to the detriment of the retirees or their legal beneficiaries. The practice and abuse has been linked to the slush funds for retiring ranking personnel of the AFP in the much ballyhooed “Pabaon System” that saw Angelo Reyes put a bullet to his head. His death did not serve justice to the many people who have been driven to despondency. Yen M, this is the reality in PH.

  17. That is what really the Philippines need that the leader is visionary for the good of the country and the people. Leadership by example will bring all officials in the administration to work together disregarding from what party they belong. The principle should be in the sincerety to serve the country and progress for the people. Nowadays we lost people of high caliber as we are afflicted by a political disease. Our politicians are treating their position as in business so the people suffer especially the non supporters of the official. It is now time to change the system. At present most people are praying with faith to change the situations unmindful that the situation is already in-place for people to change. Hopefully the officials could change and implements infrastructure beneficial and programs that leads to good economic conditions of our country, the Philippines. Looking forward for a better Philippines. Thanks Mr.Yen Macabenta for the eye-opener.