‘Build, build, build’ is a go
It appears that the Duterte administration is making headway on the infrastructure front: The board of the National Economic and Development Authority chaired by President Duterte has approved P1 trillion worth of projects so far this year.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia announced last week that at least six projects would start implementation early
next year following the final Neda board approval.
These include big-ticket projects such as the Clark Airport expansion; the first phase of the Metro Manila subway; the North-South railway projects connecting Los Baños in Laguna to Tutuban in Manila and to the Clark free port; the 130-kilometer first phase of the Mindanao railway to connect Digos, Davao City, and Tagum; the Kaliwa water supply project to ensure supply to the metropolis; and the Cavite flood control project.
The Neda board has so far approved 20 projects — 14 new and six existing with changes in scope or financing — bringing to 36 the total number of projects approved by the Duterte administration in its first 18 months in office.
Neda board approval is the final requisite before a project’s implementation. Most of these undertakings are to be financed through the national budget or by low-interest official development assistance loans.
The projects approved this year more than doubled the P400 billion total cost of the 17 projects approved in 2016.
The approvals are significant as the roll-out of up to a dozen infrastructure projects next year — six of them in the early months—could create jobs.
The government had noted that given the political instability in the Middle East, the massive “build, build, build” infrastructure program could generate the jobs necessary to absorb overseas Filipino workers who might be repatriated from the Middle East. Jobs in construction, engineering and design are expected to be in demand starting next year.
Speedier approval of infrastructure projects worth at least P2.5 billion is also expected following the reorganization of the Neda board last October and the reactivation and reorganization of the board’s executive committee.
The committee is chaired also by the President and is tasked to provide policy direction and resolve issues involving fewer agencies or a specific sector without the need to convene the entire Neda board.
Aiming to fast-track vital government projects, President Duterte has replaced some members of the board, adding the Cabinet secretary, the energy and transportation secretaries, the head of the Mindanao Development Authority and the deputy governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to the newly reorganized body.
Those removed were the secretaries of agriculture, environment, labor, and the interior. The executive secretary and the budget, finance, trade and public works secretaries remain members of the Neda board.
Moving forward, it is hoped that the government can succeed in its plan to protect important public projects from temporary restraining orders issued by lower courts.
Pernia announced last July that Neda wanted projects of national significance to not be subject to TROs except from the Supreme Court. The Duterte administration wants to craft a policy prohibiting lower courts from issuing TROs on the implementation of big-ticket projects for the flimsiest of reasons.
It will indeed be a waste to see projects hurdling many technical and financial studies, and eventual Neda board approval, only to be stopped by suspicious TROs issued by lower courts. This has happened many times before, and this has got to stop.
At stake are 75 so-called flagship, “game-changing” projects that the administration aims to begin and complete before 2022. These are infrastructure and social projects necessary to boost economic activity especially in the provinces, generate jobs, and, ultimately, lift many in the rural areas from poverty.
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