Why the nation’s infrastructure is falling apart

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Last week, I essayed the analysis that the nation’s ethical infrastructure, like our physical and political infrastructure, is sagging and crumbling, and that it urgently needs rebuilding (“Our new social cancer is ethical,” September 18).

Today, I turn my focus on the nation’s physical infrastructure – from highways and bridges, to airports and seaports, to energy plants and distribution facilities, to public transport systems and telecommunications, and the nation’s public school and public health systems – and their perplexing and perpetual state of insufficiency and disarray.

Why no dependable and safe infrastructure
I will ask the question on everyone’s mind – which is why, our nation of 100 million people, and our metropolitan capital of 12 million – is perennially rendered helpless by typhoons and flooding, and why there again looms on the horizon the prospect of crippling brownouts.

Why have the nation and the Aquino Administration failed so dismally to provide dependable and safe infrastructures – from highways and bridges to airports, energy plants and supplies, and modern transport and telecommunications? And why is the country so sluggish in the mitigation of natural disasters such as typhoons, floods and earthquakes?


Managerial incompetence
Talking with civil engineers, top executives of property development companies, energy executives, and media colleagues and fellow columnists, I have reached one plausible explanation for why the Aquino Administration has failed so dismally to meet the infrastructure challenge.

Their collective answer is unanimous. Our physical infrastructure is crumbling and hopelessly inadequate for one simple reason – managerial incompetence.

The people appointed by President Aquino to take charge of ensuring the dependability, adequacy, and safety of national infrastructure lack the training and knowhow to meet their huge responsibilities.

Start with the man who sits on top of the nation’s public works and highway system – Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public works and Highways (DPWH).

Take as the next specimen the head of the Department of energy (DOE), Jericho Petilla, who has been excoriated no end for his lack of qualifications for the post (he is no civil engineer like previous occupants of the post; he is a graduate of the non-technical course of management engineering). His current claim to national attention is his controversial recommendation that President Aquino be endowed by Congress with emergency powers to solve a prospective energy shortage next year.

Take as a third specimen the head of the department of transportation and Communications (DOTC), Joseph Emilio Abaya, who has presided over the near collapse of the MRT system in Metro Manila, the total failure of the Land Transportation Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and shortcomings in every task of his department.

Finally, consider the management mess at the country’s premier international airport, the Ninoy Aquino International airport (NAIA), and the breakdown of the port system in Manila (subject of a special report yesterday in the Times).

The management failure runs the entire gamut of the country’s infrastructure system, but it is the DPWH that leads the way for feckless leadership.

Clueless man at DPWH
In a position graced by the country’s most distinguished civil engineers and builders, like David Consunji (now one of the nation’ richest billionaires), secretary Singson is curiously not a civil engineer. He has no idea how to construct a highway or a bridge.

In August 2012, while appearing at a hearing of the House committee on appropriations to discuss his Public Works budget, Singson disclosed the difficulty his department was facing due to unqualified engineers within its ranks.

Real Filipino civil engineers, however, say that Singson should have started by disqualifying himself, because he is not a licensed civil engineer. He is an industrial engineer, a different profession altogether.

When members of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) discuss the massive infrastructure deficit of the country, they invariably point to Singson as a key part of the deficit. They say that Singson wouldn’t know how to correct the deficit even if given billions by President Aquino to work with.

When builders, economists and journalists ask who advised Aquino to axe in November 2010 the country’s most ambitious flood-control project, the finger points to Singson as the one who urged Aquino to kill it.

The venture was the Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project, which, as part of its plan to save the lake, would have dredged it of 4.6 million cubic meters of silt and waste so it would contain more floodwaters. The project would have also involved the deepening of the critical 7-kilometer Napindan Channel in Taytay so that it could better and more quickly draw floodwaters away from the metropolis to the lake.

Costing P18.7 billion, the project was to be undertaken by the 150-year-old Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ) and financed by a loan from the BNP Paribas Fortis bank, with Brussels providing a P7-billion grant—its biggest development aid ever granted to the Philippines.

If he had not cancelled the project, it would already be completed by now. and Metro Manila would have been spared the disastrous flooding from Mario last week.

Why did Aquino cancel this major project? Because he wanted to brand it as a “midnight” corrupt deal of the Arroyo administration. And he wanted to put the money in his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and channel it elsewhere.

Last week, during his European visit, President Aquino had the temerity to ask the Belgians and other Europeans to invest in infrastructure projects in the country—despite his government’s gross inability to honor contracts and investment rules.

Realities must be faced
To rapidly upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, certain realities must be faced.

First, the nation needs to come up urgently with a comprehensive infrastructure development plan that will identify needs and requirements.

President Ferdinand Marcos came up with one during his first term, and especially after proclaiming Martial Law in 1972. The result remains for all to see—in structures and services that remain up to this day.

Second, the nation needs an effective approach to raising all the money needed for public investments, because the country by itself cannot foot the bill.

It is a fact that infrastructure projects are capital-intensive propositions. In the Philippines as elsewhere, financing both the construction and the operation and maintenance of infrastructure services and facilities directly from government coffers is difficult.

Third, the quantity and quality of Philippines infrastructure have generally failed to keep pace with the growing demands of our growing population, which is now over 100 million. In 2002, the Philippines ranked 47th out of 61 countries and territories in terms of infrastructure. In 2006, its ranking fell to the 56th place.

Infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure
To the question of what the country needs most today in order to develop more rapidly, and raise the standard of living of its millions, the answer is, “infrastucture, infrastructure, and infrastructure.”

With more and better infrastructure, the country will attract more foreign investments.

With more investments and more economic activity, there will be easily more than a million new jobs a year, maybe even two million.

The challenge of infrastructure development can be met by the Filipino people. But it must begin with a government that has the vision and can do the job.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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29 Comments

  1. The situation is akin to sending a plumber to your house when there is an electrical short circuit in your system…what would this guy do to address the problem? nada…tsk tsk tsk why can’t Pnoy tap the services and expertise of various professionals / institutions instead of politicians who knows nothing but to fell up their bellys and pockets…so why our infrastructure is falling??? Aquino appoints the wrong person for the right job… too much reliance on his KKK pulls him down…and why did Aquino scrapped the LLRP ? the obvious answer is DAP…he need to pool large amount of money to buy Tongressmen and Senatongs for his caprices…

  2. I totally agree with the author’s assessment that one of the root cause of deteriorating infrastructure is managerial incompetence of the agencies’ heads, and I may add the fact that they are also technically incompetent. There’s a reason why the people who successfully venture in the business of engineering, procurement, construction, program & project management of infrastructure assets are a hybrid of managerial & technical excellence because this is what this highly specialised industry demands. It’s these people that our government should tap into, particularly those with international experiences who can bring and integrate the best global practices in upgrading and expanding our infrastructure, and not some bunch of lawyers who don’t know anything about the ins & outs of engineering, procurement, construction, program & project management of infrastructure assets. Who are these people? These people are the local managing directors or principals of local/international construction and/or multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firms with business interests in or out of the country.

    Also, we need to identify and quantify the extent of deterioration and the required rehabilitation and expansion to accomodate our current and projected requirements. We can do this by having an infrastructure report card every several years (say 6 years consistent with a President’s term) as a basis of the comprehensive infrastructure development plan that will identify needs and requirements before the start of the President’s term. Who will do this infrastructure report card? We can tap to our very own non-government accredited professional organizations (Philippine Institute Civil Engineers, Integrated Institute of Electrical Engineers,etc.), similar to what ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) does in the US (refer to the following link for the latest infrastructure report card: http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/ ).

  3. FERDINAND CANDO on

    I am wondering how Pres. Noynoy cancelled this flood control project by 150-year-old Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ), having approved by Previous administration involving considerable time of review and expenses already incurred for preparation and design of the project. This could have prevented the miseries of metro manila folks for the floods that hit on 2012 to 2014 and millions if not billions pesos damages it inflicted to Phil. And now we spend millions if not billions of national treasury facing the suit filed by BDZ. Climate change editorial, I think is disputed by 30000+ scientists and have proven it to be a hoax, is another totalitarian one world govt scheme to shutdown industrialized countries and plunge people into primitive civilization and poverty.

  4. Gone were the days when public infrastructure was planned and built by the government for the service and betterment of the Filipino people. Nowadays, public infrastructure is built not the people as priority, but business interest of the oligarchs. That is why I stand, that Marcos was the best president this country had. During his leadership, world class infrastructures were built with only 486billion pesos spent in 20 years……yet……pinaparatangan pa syang magnanankaw. Yan ang napala ng mga walang utang na loob na pilipino.

  5. Where an administration (in this case, the Band of Lowlifes pretending to be reformists) is pre-occupied with transactional matters, infrastructure development is simply a subject of public rhetorics. Infrastructure development is possible thru a strategic minsdset (desired future state) guided by the primacy of quality of life for all as the singular motivation, and key principles of real governance, whether national or local. But this strategic mindset is wanting in Aquino and his Stooges aka Band of Thieves.
    We seem to be in a time warp where mal-governance is either the norm or standard for the last four years and into the next two years. Whose fault? Your guess is as good as mine.

  6. Whatever is happening and has happened to our country, no one is to blame but ourselves. We allowed these cleptomaniacs and nincompoops to be in power but did nothing to stopped them. The country will continue to be in this state for as long as the people will not act to assert their sovereign right. Now is the time to act and put an end to indignities heap upon our shoulders by these bastard politicians and their oligarch accomplice!

  7. Pakitanong lang kay Sec Abaya bakit niya inalis ang Kontrata sa Sumitomo
    para sa Maintenance ng MRT, ganung alam na alam niya ang kakayahan
    nito, at sa MAGANDA EKSPERYENSA nila sa serbisyo nito sa nakalipas
    na ilang taon. Kilala ang SUMITOMO sa buong mundo, na kayang panagutan
    at panindigan ang kanilang mga gawain. Ang nakakataka, bakit nila
    inilipat sa isang kumpaniya na kakatatag lamang, walang sapat na capital,
    sapat na eksperyensa technical, kakayahang financial, at kwestionableng
    karaker ng mga nagmamayari.
    2.Paki sagot din bakit mula ng pumasok para mamahala ang administrayong
    pnoy, bakit nawala ang mga plaka na iniisyu ng LTO simula kay virgenia torres,
    at walang sticker at ngayon lang huling buwan ng 2014 nagkaroon. Hindi
    ba man lang kayo nahihiya sa mga nagpaparegistro na sinisingil ninyo para
    sa plaka at sticker pero wala kayong ibinibigay, na naging problema pag
    registro sa sumunod na taon. Nakakahiya man, dapat bumili na lang kayo ng
    BOND AID pamalit sa sticker, at siya ninyong ipamigay. Ganyan kagaling
    ang serbisyo ninyo sa bayan. Idagdag pa 4 years na sunod, record ng
    airport ng pilipinas as worst in the World.

  8. You know the nation’s failing infrastructure did not occur in four years. Neither can it be repaired in four years. But even then, travel around the country to see how much is being done. Or just around Metro Manila to see how much maintenance, repairs and new construction is going on.

    • very true indeed! yet, if this government really is into instituting reforms as being shoved into our throats, then we should see the effects after 4 years. the problem is that the existing problem on infrastructure was not apprised on the first year and to map a blueprint how to arrest, if not reverse, the current condition. had the government done so, some of the new infrastructure and much needed improvements on current ones can already be seen. just take look at the sorry state of MRT, our airports, sea ports, traffic gridlock that is getting worse day by day and flooding…

      the problem with this government is that it is prioritizing to fortify their stronghold to power & money…

  9. Its a very simple answer, every government you have had has been useless. They have all cared for themselves & not for the country. They get elected to run the country but are incompetent & corrupt. They put people in positions who dont have a clue. Its easy to see what other countries do & copy them, thats so easy but not in the philippines. They dont care about the people.
    How many of you ever complain about how difficult they make it for you to find employment & when you start applying for work how many of you complain about making you pay to find work. This & every other government you have had dont give a dam about you, they just want you to keep paying your money so they can keep stealing it. Thats all they care about.

  10. The answer to a most difficult question is simple — there are too many cooks. Whether the project cost is a mere million pesos or multibillion pesos – it is the same */;;.*@#* thing – too many cooks or should I say CROOKS!

  11. victor m. hernandez on

    The concerns about infrastructure, whether ethical or physical, that the current state of affairs are not just the names that were identified. The root is the one who appointed them. In any case, the need for infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure cannot be overemphasized.
    My favorite development economist, Kindleberger, says the essentials for development are Infrastructure, and Education. Without these, a country and its people will rot or will be in a rut. The challenge is really to build on the the successes and accomplishment of the past administrations, as the immediate governance before the current one said.

  12. We have serious problems in our infrastructure and we have political thinking that replaces any serious planning. The incompetents given jobs because they are friends or political allies is a serious problem. Government is a big business and is not a place for idiots or fools. BS Aquino can’t fix anything because we have the stupid leading the stupid. We need a proven leader with big business success as the next President.

  13. No wonder the DOE and the DPWH are screwing-up like no one cares, the 2 Secretaries are not qualified to their posts. A typical mischievous PNoy style. He, he, these two are just like their boss, un-qualified and incompetent. I am very impressed in the comment of one Marcospolo in today’s article which I wish can be translated to English. PNoy as President is a disaster because it commenced in vindictiveness and hatred. Poor Pilipinos we are also suffering with one calamity after another because it is a sign of karma.

  14. Hindi si Aquino ang nag appoint at lagay samga walang silbi official namga ito,!!
    Sila ang nag lagay sa pagka-pangulo na si noynoy!!
    Party-party kung tawagin kung sino ang may power na mapasunod ang kasali sa party, ay siya ngayon ang may hawak ng power..
    Si noynoy ay hostage ng partido, dahil kulang sa kaisipan nqgagawa niya ang naisin ng pangulo ng partido!!
    Ngayon. Ay dummy lang nila si Aquino!! Dahil sa labis na galit sa pag alis ng hacienda luisita at kaisipan mag higanti,
    Hindi na niya namalayan, nahulog nasa sa patibong ng pangkat ng hayop 10 at partido ni roxas!

    Kailangan na talagang alisin ang lintang yellow cronies na sumisipsip sa yaman ng bansa,
    Burahin hindi lang alisin ang. Aquino at yellow mafia!!

  15. The problem we always have are the political parties and their leaders all the time.
    Once somebody starts to introduce projects for infrastructure that are effective, the next political party being elected will not carry it on as they will always say it will
    credit not to them. That is why our infrastructure are not well done.

    The best way is to let the technical people who are qualified and not just appoint
    one who has no experience to do the job. More funds be keep aside so we can sent
    our engineers out of the country to learn more on how they are build and that takes
    a bit of time and money. Asking them to go abroad for a few months might not even
    work . Takes years to know, but there are ways by inviting our fellow kababayan
    with their experience on their profession it can truly help the Philippines.

    The biggest question here as always, are you a Filipino or an American with a Green Card that is BS. We have the Dual Citizenship Law and why don’t they also serve the
    Government for public office. Just too much protection within by this said Honorable
    Leaders who do not want them to serve the people of our country.

    So what is the use of the Dual Citizenship Law. Just to bring their money to invest
    in the Philippines. As long as both parents are born in the Philippines and they are born in the Philippines. That is the bottom line.
    Philippines.

    • Rosauro Feliciano on

      My son was born outside the Philippines and finished Secondary education outside the Philippines as well. After graduating from high school, I enrolled him at St. Lo in Baguio. However, after a semester he was admitted at the PMA and after a year in the PMA he was admitted at the USMA at WP, NY. So he did not really feel our Filipino Culture. After four years of stay at WP he was very happy to serve in Mindanao. After three years of serving the AFP, he told me: “Dad if I was born and attended high school in your country, I am sure I am following what the majority are doing.” I asked him why he was telling me that; he responded: “Dad a person no matter how intelligent that person is, even he will be provided scholarship in the best university in the USA or in Europe, when that fellow comes back to the Philippines, there will be no changes in him or her, and I will not tell you why.” Then he said: “I am fortunate to have a very good foundation in the military and earned some medals while still a cadet and so I served the Phil military because I love you, the country and your, our people but, now after three years of service I am leaving because I love you, our country and the people …” and he told me more. My heart cried but did not show him. I told him: Don’t forget you are a Filipino and don’t change your citizenship because you love me, the Philippines and it people.

  16. that laguna lake dredging to my mind was the start of the bungling of aquino of everything he touched. remember the reason he said why he cancelled the project? now i know that a non-engineer, tho with good reputation up to now, had said so. had the dredging been allowed, the flooding of lakeshore towns of laguna and rizal would have been lessened and probably that of metro manila. ang bonus ay mayroon pang bagong highway around the lake which would be cheaper to use than the slex since it would be, i presume, toll free.

  17. Maganda ang paliwanag at malinaw na sulution ,sa totoo lang kahit normal na mamamayan madali makita at maobserbahan kung ano ang nararapat gawin tungkol sa kakulangan ng infustruction,
    Greed,cronies at kasakiman ang unang dapat alisin sapagkat ito ang sagabal upang nagawa ang lahat.
    Tanggapin man ng lahat o hindi,
    Simula ng pumasok ang Aquino at maibalik ang power sa mga yellow cronies,lahat ng naumpisahan at mabubuting na ipundar na Marcos regimen at pilit binubura kung hindi man pilit ipinalalagay sa utak ng mga nautong mga pilipino na sila ang gumawa pilit ng yellow gangs na akin ang mabubuting naipunla ng nakaraan Marcos,,
    Katulad ng bataan nuclear na buong puso na itinayo ni marcos para sa pakinabangan ng Mamamayan,pero pilit sinisira ang kaisipan ng mga tao na masama ito dahil ayaw nilang malaman na totoong naraming kabutihan ginawa ang mga Marcos,kung ikukumpara sa rehimen Aquino mula sa ina at sa nagpapanggap na santo at walang kasalanan ng pangulo noynoy.
    28 years na hawak ng Aquino ay anay na yellow fanatics ang bansa ngunit hanggang ngayon nasa dusa at kadiliman pa ang bansa natin.
    Marami ng yellow supporte ang ang ngayon ay gising na, sa bangungot na nagawa ng Aquino,marami ng hindi na sinasamba ang santo Aquino. Ang mga anay na cronies ay ngayon ay nagtatabaan linta na sumipsip at ng bigay nang dusa sa pilipino,
    Kung mapupurga lang natin at maaalis ang mga masamang damo na itinanim ng Aquino na ngayon ay naghahasik pa rin ng lagim at walang kabusugan mga yellow mafia at ang mga media na nagkamal ng salapi at patuloy na sinusupportahan ang Aquino sa kanilang pansariling interest.!
    Dapat ngayon na bunutin ang mga itinanim at naglipana buwitre ng mga Aquino.
    Kung walang kulay yellow,sana ngayon ay nagkakaisa ang bansa!isang kulay,isa puso, isang pag-asa,isang nagmamahal bansa,nawalang partisyon,
    Mga pinoy kailan tayo magiging isa,isang kulay!!
    Alisin na ang Aquino at gawin pantay-pantay ang lahat!
    Magiging patag at mabuti ang daankapag naalis…

  18. I agree with your opinion and observations about the situation of Philippine infrastructure. Please share them with AM and FM radio commentators who agree with these insights for dissemination to the provinces and remotest barangays. With the impact/effects of climate change, our country needs decisive leaders who are sincere and honest in their intentions to serve for the common good. Plans and implementation of reforms must be beyond political parties and their interests. We might have more serious problems once the ASEAN trade integration takes effect.
    For the rest of the citizens, we must be more discerning of what to copy/adopt from what we see on various T.V. shows, from printed and digital media. Let’s read our Bibles and strengthen/redirect our values for cultural/moral transformation.

  19. I do not question this columnist’s findings why the nation’s infrastructure is falling apart. But, to me it’s one more step back. “The best” is not the primary criterion in the selection of head of the different departments; it’s political exigency as usual. Despite the current single six-year term of an elected president, we have yet to have an elected president who will readily say: “my loyalty to my party ends when my loyalty to my country begins.” We need a statesman and not a politician. We need a leader who is empowered by the people because he is revered by the them. One who stands for the people, come hell or high water; not one who would like to lead in order to perpetuate his political party in power. This is the main reason why we have leaders in vain and still a nation in pain.

  20. Yes, Pres. Marcos came up with a comprehensive infrastructure development plan during his term in office. It is sad that people nowadays, especially the youth, are being swamped with anti-Marcos propaganda from the Yellow media that is meant to instill a hatred for the late President. They should do their research with an open mind and find out for themselves that the positive things brought about during his term far outweigh the negative.

    • Who will appreciate Pres. Marcos’ accomplishments? The Filipino showbiz fanatics? Those who do not know even a single real national hero but know hundreds of celebrities?

  21. The problem is that PNoy appoints incompetent so they will not be better than him. Also perhaps he is so incomoetent that he can only see base on the appointees’ subservient quality.

    These results to disastrous and inferior infrastructures.

    • the problem of appointed incompetents lies with the one who makes the appointment. good leaders appoint the best minds and experienced people to help run the government affairs and at the same time boots out the laggers and those who are taking a free ride.

      such an example of a good leader is at lee kuan yew who did very good in laying the foundation of their economy (still followed this day) -and their citizens are now reaping the results for decades now.

  22. on emergency power:
    it’s getting clearer by day that the “imminent” power shortage is not as imminent and as grievous as the government wants us to believe. petilla, in previous hearings in the house energy comm. denied power shortage in worrisome proportions during summer of 2015. the same assurance was made in the joint congressional power commission briefing…then suddenly the horrifying power outlook painted by petilla and aquino with veiled threat- “endure long debilitating blackouts if no emergency power”! power lack was due to noynoying the past four years as is the wont of aquino. and now the threat! the power shortage can be addressed by combination of other alternative measures like ilp, resa, full capacity operation of other plants, postponing of the scheduled maintenance of power plants, simple energy conservation and many more. we will be throwing 6B for 3-4 months of feared power shortage! the crazy part of it? – only 300mw is the perceived shortage but petilla wants another 300mw as “buffer”. and that is 1B for every 100mw so 600mw= 6B pesos! and contracts for additional generating capacity is 2 yrs. at the least! meaning, long before power supply returns to normal, we are still paying billions of pesos for unused supply! hello? sounds like ipp of ramos emergency powers during the 90s. i am of the firm belief that this is pure monetary greed plus another campaign fund generating program.

    we will be made to pay a very stiff price for the greed and sheer incompetence of aquino and petilla! makatarungan ba yan?

    • this is just part of the 2016 election kitty build up. patilla have been saying that there is enough supply now suddenly there is none. read somewhere that, i think one column here at manila times o manila standard, that there is enough supply. the problem was the cartel was making it look like there was not enough supply.

    • the LP needs to raise money for 2016 elections and this is an easy and nifty way of doing this. clueless citizens are again hoodwinked to accept the deal. what petilla is saying that rental power companies only accepts 2 years as the minimum duration is an absolutely lie. i personally know of at least 2 well known rental companies that accepts orders even as low as 3 months duration.

      take for example rental power being used during the Olympics, which is used only for a month at the most. rental power for Olympics are on operated on standby mode (spinning reserve) to ensure uninterrupted power supply during the games.