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A dismal failure

/ 05:05 AM November 28, 2019

No, it hasn’t been. I don’t think Sen. Franklin Drilon meant it literally either.

The numbers alone say the “Build,  Build, Build” (BBB) program has been quite a success. During the past 50 years, infrastructure spending has averaged only about 2.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). You’ve probably noticed it as you crawl through the overcrowded, inadequate streets of Manila; or store pails of water to keep you going through waterless days (no fault of the water companies). Rail at previous governments; they are entirely to blame. This is much lower than the 5-percent average for five other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and because of it we’ve fallen far behind.

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In the three years of President Duterte, infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has doubled. In the last full year (2015) of President Benigno Aquino III, the government spent P436 billion. Last year, the Duterte administration spent P803.6 billion, almost double that amount. It was 5.1 percent of GDP last year, and the government intends to raise it to 7 percent by 2022. That can’t be considered a failure.

It’s true that the government hasn’t met its original plans and goals, but what government ever does? Mind you, it could have done better if the House of Representatives hadn’t stopped infrastructure spending for six months with its attempt to capture pork barrel, and if Congress had approved the emergency powers that Mr. Duterte requested at the beginning of his term. I note that Albay Rep. Joey Salceda is reviving it. It may be late in the game, as it should have been done two years ago, but Congress should provide that law even now, given that bureaucratic convolution and legal shenanigans delay projects for no good reason.

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Courts delaying the takeover of needed land with temporary restraining orders (TROs) don’t help. This, despite the Constitution allowing it with a right of way law that gives government eminent domain. Mind you, as I’ve long argued, the government should pay double the fair market value. Generously compensate landowners for the disruption in their lives. It’s cheaper compared to the high cost of delay. For the national good, the Chief Justice may want to look into why courts accept TROs on the takeover of land, and stop the practice. That could be a wise early action in his post. Let the few that have any merit be accepted  by the Supreme Court — then decided on swiftly. This means weeks, not months, or, as happens far too often, years.

The nightmare that is Manila traffic can no longer be tolerated. It’s becoming impossible to do business. The Japan International Cooperation Agency said five years ago that the country loses some P3.5 billion a day due to the hellish, unbearable traffic. This could increase to P5.4 billion per day if no significant solutions (i.e., the completion of major mass transport systems such as the Manila subway) are implemented. It’s becoming insufferable for workers to get to their jobs.

It’s Manila (the Greater Manila Area) that is the dismal failure, not the BBB program. It’s a group of cities no one can live in, even in a halfway decent manner. Three to six hours of commute just to do a job is inhuman — one hour to traverse Makati, and God knows (and you never do) how many hours to traverse Edsa. It’s hell for those who are going there — and that includes the idiot(s) who designed and authorized a one-lane ramp from SLEx to Alabang. Creating a third lane was a clever solution, but more lanes need to be added as a real solution.

One thing the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation could do with little effort to speed things up is to outsource. Contract truly independent contractors to help the government develop the details of a project and prepare the terms of reference and requests for proposals. I’d use only foreign experts for two reasons: One, they’ll be demonstrably, provably independent; two, they’ll have the experience and expertise of doing similar work elsewhere that we could benefit from.

Congress should rush (meaning before Christmas) passage of the Public Services Act, so foreign companies can be brought in to build much of what we need. It should also pass the emergency powers bill. Our local companies are doing a great job, but they are overstretched now. And with so many projects to do, outside help would  be welcome, particularly if getting them started could be speeded up as above.

Let’s make Build, Build, Build the real success it could be.

Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: BBB, Franklin Drilon, infrastructure program, Like It Is, Peter Wallace
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