THE decision of the Duterte administration, through the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), to revise and reduce the number of big-ticket projects under the ambitious Build, Build, Build infrastructure program is a necessary adjustment that is better done deliberately rather than imposed by circumstances on the government
As announced by Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, the government will remove three big projects from the program for reasons of unfeasibility, economic viability and financial requirements.
He identified the three projects as: the 18.2-kilometer (km) Luzon-Samar bridge; the 23-km Leyte-Surigao bridge; and the 24.5-km Cebu- Bohol bridge.
Secretary Pernia explains the reason for the change: ‘’What we have done is to take out certain projects that are impossible to implement, because we have yet to acquire the technology needed to build in very deep waters and long bridges.”
He qualified his explanation with the observation that the technology for such construction may already be available somewhere.
This revision of Build, Build, Build is the application of good sense and realism to what is clearly the most ambitious infrastructure development program ever attempted in the Philippines, and one that will impact national modernization long into the future.
When Build was first rolled out as a plan to bring on a “golden age of infrastructure” in the country, there were times when it sounded to many as too good to be true and fanciful. You had to salute the planners for their sheer ambition and audacity.
The adjustment that is happening now is the direct result of an inventory of infrastructure projects under the six-year, $180-billion Build, Build, Build program, designed to come up with a more realistic list of projects.
Secretary Pernia told the media that with the inventory the government would trim the list of 75 flagship projects that it had initially promised to deliver, and that it would drop some projects and replace them with projects that are ‘’more economically feasible and doable.”
The plan has hit snags, the most recent of which was the delay in the approval of the 2019 budget. This forced the government’s economic managers to lower the growth target for the year to 6 percent to 7 percent, from the original target of 7 percent to 8 percent.
Secretary Pernia said the revised list of infrastructure projects could even reach 100 projects because they would be replacing the undoable big projects with many smaller but “game-changing projects” like roads, bridges and irrigation systems that will benefit provinces not included in the original list.
In terms of cost, the three long-bridge projects were projected to cost several billion dollars. This funding can then be redirected more productively elsewhere.
NEDA plans to release the revised list of infrastructure projects next week.
Not all the projects will be finished during President Duterte’s term, but “half of the 100 will be either completed or started during his term,’’ which will end in 2022.
The government had planned to finance the projects through its budget, official development assistance, private sector funds and loans.
ING economist Nicholas Mapa said the scaled-down plan would still give the economy a boost.
“Regardless of scale and scope, chasing the golden age of infrastructure will go a long way toward helping clear out the decades-long backlog of infra development, and this should be growth-positive both in the near term and medium term as Philippine productive capacity increases,” Mapa said.
This in our view is the essence of development. Mighty structures and great engineering projects do not spring to life overnight. They are first ignited by vision and ambition; then they are planned and designed. And then they are built.
Thus will our golden age of infrastructure come to be.