Infrastructure modernization, yes, but why build artificial islands?



First read
As a one-time policy research director in government, I am a true believer in the high importance of infrastructure development to economic modernization.

I worked on these development policy issues at a time when our presidents and government had more “will than wallet.” They could not allocate the funds to public investments as much as was truly needed.

Not since President Marcos perhaps have we had a president more committed to infrastructure modernization than President Duterte. No one has lucked into a stronger and more stable economy than he has; as things stand today, he can pretty much attract all the investments and development financing that we need for national modernization. And no one, it appears, is more willing to close the deal.

Like most of our people, I found it exciting to read about all the billions of dollars of investments and project financing that DU30’s recent visits to China and Japan have generated.

From one corner of my eye, I thought I saw the Philippines rising as a modern 21st century economy.

Key to inclusive growth
The reason for bold and sweeping infrastructure development has been forcefully stated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in a well-researched paper.

Infrastructure, says the bank, is the key to inclusive growth and poverty-reduction in the Philippines and other Asian countries.

The backbone of Asia’s economic progress is infrastructure development.

Infrastructure plays a critical role in society and the economy by providing services to households and industries. The availability of transport, electricity, safe water and sanitation, and other key facilities such as schools and hospitals, has a tremendous impact on improving the quality of life of households, especially poor ones.

For businesses, infrastructure services facilitate production, transport, and transactions that spur growth, which in turn help to raise incomes and reduce poverty. Infrastructure development also helps countries in addressing climate change and reducing their vulnerability to shocks and disasters.

Conversely, says the bank, a lack of infrastructure development signals barriers to growth and overall development.

The Philippines, along with other Asian countries, still shows a significant deficiency in infrastructure services and infrastructure stock.

Millions of our people still have insufficient access to basic sanitation services, electricity, and safe water.

The key challenge is to provide high quality and efficient infrastructure systems that can support more inclusive and higher economic growth. The challenges are enormous.

In terms of funding, infrastructure modernization will require a total investment not just in the billions, perhaps even of several trillions of dollars.

Infrastructure consists of hard and soft components. The hard and visible infrastructure, such as roads, railways, electricity, and telecommunications, must be accompanied and supported by its soft component, such as policies and regulations, to enable the system to perform well and generate impacts. The right mix and synergy of the two is important to ensure that the infrastructure system supports inclusive growth and poverty reduction. Well-functioning and efficient infrastructure promotes inclusiveness by expanding access to vital services and improving economic opportunities for all.

This, in turn, reduces poverty.

The agreements forged by president Dutertre and his business delegation in Beijing and Tokyo, will go a considerable way in meeting some of the challenges.

It’s exciting to envision the prospect of our far-flung archipelago, being threaded together by modern railway systems, which in turn will be complemented by modern airports and air services, and safe and modern maritime transport and ports.

Artificial islands project
This vision of our infrastructure future is so compelling, that it hurts to know that some people smuggled into the agreements signed in Beijing, a project for the construction of artificial islands in Davao City.

Artificial islands? The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and its Director- General Ernesto Pernia must explain this conundrum.

The project involves the construction not just of one, but four artificial islands in Davao City.

According to the news release, the islands will be spread along eight kilometers of coastline, and will total 208 hectares of reclaimed land.

The project is the joint undertaking of CCCC Dredging, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Communications Construction company (CCCC) in China, and the Philippines Mega harbor Port and Development, whose status and circumstances have yet to be disclosed.

On its face, the project raises some immediate and intriguing questions among our people, such as:

First, with the Philippine archipelago consisting of 7,107 islands, many of which the state cannot develop, why is our government embarking on the construction of artificial islands? Why not expend our resources and energies instead on developing already existing islands?

Second, with Davao City already the largest city of the Philippines, with a total land area of 2,444 hectares, why does it need more real estate? The city also combines with other cities and municipalities in Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur to form Metro Davao.

The sprawling metropolis covers a lot of territory. So why then is it necessary to expand the territory of Davao City and Metro Davao? Where is the wisdom and compelling necessity for this project?

Third, in this project, our government will be doing business with a Chinese company that was heavily involved in the construction of China’s artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea – the spratleys — to which the Philippines is a claimant. Partly because of its work in the controversial island-building project, CCCC Dredging has had to delay its initial public offering (IPO) in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Has CCCC Dredging been subjected to a due-diligence inquiry by our government?

I field these questions with the NEDA, because it is economists and development planners who should cost and evaluate this undertaking.

Mankind’s better moments
Having said that, I should qualify my words by saying that some historians say that some of mankind’s better moments involved ambitious construction projects.

In a stirring essay, “Mankind’s better moments,” the historian Barbara Tuchman cited as an epic achievement, the feat of the Dutch in making land out of sea. By progressive enclosure of the Zuider Sea over a period of 60 years, the Dutch added half a million acres to their country, enlarging its area by eight percent and providing homes, farms and towns for close to a quarter of a million people.

Wrote Tuchman: “The will to do the impossible, the spirit of can-do that overtakes our species now and then, was never more manifest than in this earth-shattering act by the smallest of the major European nations.”

Rising to the same height of narrative is the book Bold Endeavors by Felix Rohatyn (Simon & Schuster, 2009), which relates how the United States in 10 large transformative projects, built modern America – from the transcontinental railroad, to the Homestead Act, to the interstate highway system.

President Duterte could have far-reaching impact on our country and our future with his moves in infrastructure development. He needs a good storyteller.


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  1. the 7 thousand islands plus mentioned above, maiority of them are unlivable permanently by human and not commercially viable for development so it is insane to develop them while those propose reclamation projects have a high potential commercially for the good of the country. that is the trade of.

    • Ginoong TANGONAN , kung ako ang
      TA-TANONGIN , hindi kabaliwan na ayusin ang mga maliliit na Isla ng Pilipinas upang mapakinabangan … sa panahong ito , wala ng imposible.

      Noong mga bata pa si Sabel at Gorio … pag-sinabi ni Gorio na da-dalhin niya si Sabel sa buwan at doon sila mag-“HONEYMOON” , pagta-tawanan siya at bansagang ‘isang baliw’ .

      Ngayon , hindi ba naka-karating na ang tao sa ibat-ibang Planeta ?

      Dito sa lupa, “chicken feed” na lang ang pag-gawa ng mapakinabangang “ISLA SA KARAGATAN” … di ba ?

  2. We need ARTIFICIAL ISLANDS to build REAL HIGH-RISE (earthquake and tsunami proof) BUILDINGS to take care of OVER-POPULATION and HOUSING FOR THE POOR.

    The present UNDER-DEVELOPED ISLANDS we have now , WOULD BE DEVELOPED for AGRICULTURAL PURPOSES as sources of food for the increasing population, especially for the unsuspecting poor who are always being used by CORRUPT and GREEDY POLITICIANS as reason to get elected during election times … the poor who are forgotten when the election is over.

    I believe that our President has good plans for the benefit of the Filipino People in general , let us just wait and see .

  3. We filled in part of Manila Bay. Why? Wasn’t Luzon big enough already? It is called progress by some and other want to keep things the way they are forever. Metro Davao will boom in the future. We need to be forward thinking and build now rather than later. From Cory to her son, we have neglected all infrastructure and look at us now. We have a lot of catching up, but never lose sight of future needs.

    • there are also a few proposals to reclaim more land in Manila Bay. In general, i’m supportive especially if for a new airport. However, some restrictions are necessary so that property developers make the effort to redevelop old neighborhoods.

  4. If I am not wrong, you are referring to the proposed reclamation area along Quezon Boulevard in Davao City. This project was approved by the Davao City Council while Duterte was the mayor of the city. I read in the papers that contracts were signed before he became president. This was sort of legacy to people of Davao City. Will it benefit people of Davao ? Most definitely YES. Will it benefit the whole country again it is a resounding YES. What is wrong with you guys? Here comes the development and you are opposing it.

  5. 1. Where they will take the land to fill the sea? So, they will take gargantuan amount of land to dump into the sea to make a piece of land, genius.
    2. CCCC is blacklisted by UN for scandalous projects.

    • Reclamation could mean dredging the sea and using that to extend the shoreline outwards towards the sea. I remember cycling along the Times Beach off Ecoland in Davao many years ago. The shoreline used to be further out by several tens (if not hundreds) of meters. Over the years, the shore line was eroded and eaten up by the sea.