A WEAKENING economy is putting more pressure on the government to immediately implement the big-ticket infrastructure projects promised by President Rodrigo Duterte under the “Build, Build, Build” program.
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 5.6 percent in the first quarter and 5.5 percent in the second — from 6.5 percent in January to March and 6.2 percent in April to June last year — which economic managers have blamed on a four-and-a-half-month delay in the approval of this year’s national budget and an election ban on construction activities.
To redress this, a catch-up plan to boost state spending, especially on infrastructure, is to be implemented in the remaining quarters of the year to meet the GDP growth goal of 6-7 percent. In the proposed 2020 budget, meanwhile, infrastructure spending has been increased to P972 billion from this year’s P816 billion.
“[T]he government’s catch-up plan on infrastructure spending, through [the] faster rollouts of various infrastructure projects [of] the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) and the Department of Transportation (DoTr), [should] help spur faster economic growth [and] make up for the slower economic growth [recorded] in the [first half] of 2019,” Michael Ricafort, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) head of the economics and industry research division and the corporate planning group, told The Manila Times.
Both departments have been touting different aviation, railway, road and mariHTtime projects as being in various stages of implementation, while Duterte said on August that he wanted all these projects finished before his steps down in 2022.
A repeat of this year’s budget impasse and right-of-way acquisition issues could pose serious challenges, Ricafort said.
“Right-of-way issues caused delays in some of the government’s big-ticket infrastructure projects…since these go through [or are] litigated via courts, which sometimes take many months, if not many years, to be resolved,” he noted.
The “timely approval of the  national budget by lawmakers would also be important…to speed up the completion of various infrastructure projects and prevent underspending and slower economic growth, as seen earlier in 2019.”
Only two finished
Data from the National Economic and Development Authority shows that of 75 key “Build, Build, Build” projects, only two have been completed as of April 30. These are the improvement of the remaining sections of the Pasig River stretching from the Delpan Bridge in Manila to the Napindan Channel in Taguig City and the third phase of the Pulangi 4 Selective Dredging project.
Twenty-five projects worth P263.212 billion, meanwhile, are expected to be finished by 2022 and 50 others are expected to be completed beyond that.
Projects still in the pipeline are the New Cebu International Container Port; Subic-Clark Railway Project; Ambal-Simuay River and Rio Grande de Mindanao flood control projects; Philippine National Railway (PNR) North 2, which will connect Malolos City in Bulacan province to Clark International Airport and New Clark City in Pampanga province; PNR South Commuter Line, which will link the Tutuban Center in Manila to Calamba City in Laguna province; and the first phase of the Metro Manila Subway Project.
Ongoing projects include the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon bridges, Clark International Airport expansion project, Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, and the second phase of the Malitubog-Maridagao Irrigation Project.
One project that the President is particularly keen on seeing it finished before the year ends is the Sangley International Airport in Cavite City, Cavite province. He imposed a November deadline for its completion, and in order to meet it, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has ordered its nonstop construction.
Once built, the gateway — aimed at helping decongest the country’s main air hub, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport — will initially host to general aviation and turboprop operations. As of August 28, the airport’s completion rate stood at 54.16 percent.
The “expeditious completion of the government’s major infrastructure projects, especially those under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, would be key to support/sustain faster economic growth and development over the long term,” Ricafort said.
The “timely completion and further development of infrastructure would also help attract more foreign investments and foreign tourists [to] the country, ease congestion and, at the very least, reduce productivity losses attributed to congestion on roads, railways, seaports and airports,” he added.