by Richmond Mercurio – The Philippine Star, 27 Dec 2021
MANILA, Philippines — Time is running out for the administration to achieve the dream of ushering in the golden age of infrastructure in the country, but the government’s Build Build Build architects are keen to make the most of their remaining few months for a last hurrah.
From the outset, infrastructure development has been a major priority of the Duterte administration, paving the way for the creation of its flagship Build Build Build program, wherein public spending on infrastructure projects is targeted to reach up to P9 trillion from 2017 to 2022.
Now that the administration’s final half year is on the horizon, infrastructure projects continue to take center stage as these projects are essential in helping fuel the country’s economic recovery following setbacks brought about by the pandemic.
“Infrastructure investment remains an effective method of successfully stimulating growth, especially during the aftermath of an economic shock. That is why the Department of Transportation and its attached agencies have been actively working to use this stimulus investment for sustainable recovery,” DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade said.
“With the crisis situation beginning to finally ease off, where are we now? That’s the basic question we have to answer. Despite and notwithstanding the challenges in the past months, our spirits did not falter. In fact, our earnest desire to provide the Filipino people an improved quality of life only grew stronger and very strong,” he said.
The DOTr, as one of the primary agencies leading the Duterte administration’s massive infrastructure push, has so far completed over 230 airport projects since 2016, some of which have been inaugurated in the last couple of months such as the Bicol International Airport, General Santos International Airport and Zamboanga International Airport.
“The question now is, are we done yet? We are far from over. The transformation of the aviation landscape in the Philippines is a continuing thing,” said Tugade, noting that a number of airport projects are still scheduled to be completed and inaugurated within the first half of 2022.
These include air gateways in Tuguegarao, San Vicente, Cotabato, Maasin, Vigan and Catbalogan.
The privatization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, however, was put on hold early this year, with the DOTr opting to pursue development projects at the gateway on its own through the Manila International Airport Authority.
On the maritime front, the DOTr and the Philippine Ports Authority have also been relentless in their work, having completed 484 seaport projects nationwide, with 100 more projects ongoing.
Tugade said never before in the history of the country has so much construction been done in both the aviation and maritime sectors.
The DOTr has also been working and getting investment approvals to increase the route length of operational rail lines, raise the number of train stations, and expand the number of fleet in order to boost the country’s rail transport capacity.
From only four operating lines with 77 kilometers of total route length in 2016, the agency is looking to increase that number to 1,209 kms by next year.
The target figure includes railways that are actually completed, under construction, and projects that have been awarded and can commence construction.
The DOTr also intends to raise the number of train cars in operation in the country from 224 in 2016 to 1,386 by 2022, as well as expand the country’s 61 operational stations to 179 total stations by next year.
“In the railways sector, we have been non-stop to deliver big ticket infrastructure projects so that the bulk of our commuters will benefit from ease of mobility at the soonest possible time,” Tugade said.
“Before we step down in 2022, we will commence the construction work for other railway big ticket projects such as the LRT-2 West Extension, the MRT-4, the PNR Calamba, PNR Bicol, Subic-Clark railway, and Mindanao railway,” he said.
Transportation Undersecretary for railways Timothy John Batan said there is a massive transport problem that can only be solved with mass public transport, particularly railways, having the highest capacity and being the most efficient form of land transport.
However, despite the current massive pipeline of rail projects, Batan admitted that the country would still have a lot of catching up to do in improving its railway density.
“As large as our pipeline may currently be–it’s the single largest railway pipeline that we’ve had in history, it’s more than $30 billion–frankly, we need four to five times more of that just to catch up with the railway density we are targeting, just to catch up with the amount of rail transport capacity that we need for the country,” he said.
Tugade said the DOTr would make the most of the remaining time it has under his leadership, assuring the public that the agency would not slow down even as the finish line draws near.
“The pace will continue to be faster and stronger as we end the term of President Duterte in 2022. To say that we have achieved significant strides to improve the state of public transport infrastructure from where we were before, but to tell you honestly, there is still much more to do with only little time left,” he said.
“Rest assured that in the remaining months of this meaningful time, serving under the Duterte administration, we will exert all efforts to deliver what has been promised and fulfill what we have so desired. That is to make the Filipino life comfortable and convenient,” Tugade said.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Roger Mercado, who replaced former DPWH chief and senatorial candidate Mark Villar, believes the administration’s unprecedented infrastructure journey has proven successful amid the challenges.
“President Duterte and his team prevailed and the government, with the DPWH as one of the lead agencies, raced against time to deliver better public works and highways and provided massive employment,” Mercado said.
“The budget allocation earmarked for infrastructure development each year and with more active development assistance from foreign countries as well as the private sector support, the BBB became a force to reckon and bolstered our economic development,” he said.
The DPWH, on its end, has constructed, maintained, widened, upgraded and rehabilitated 31,977 kms of roads from July 2017 to September 2021, with 13,841 kms more still ongoing.
The agency has likewise constructed, widened, upgraded, rehabilitated and strengthened 6,333 bridge, while completing 12,394 flood control projects nationwide.
Some 1,533 ongoing bridge projects and 3,603 flood control projects are up for completion by the early quarter of 2022, according to DPWH Undersecretary Emil Sadain, who has also taken the role as chief implementer of the Build Build Build program.
Sadain said the government is undertaking all efforts to ensure that the BBB program is implemented to its fullest extent and provide a good foundation for the next generation.
He said that even as the term of current administration is winding down, there will be no letup in the government’s commitment to pump-prime economy with investment on more projects to stimulate both short-term growth through employment generation, and long-term inclusive development by ensuring that infrastructure is not merely concentrated on urban areas, but extends even to the countryside.
“The DPWH is steadfast in pursuing the commitment for the plans and programs, especially under the Build Build Build program of the President under his term, and we will be looking forward in the next administrations that this project will still be sustained as we progress along in the next generation,” he said.
For his part, Tugade said he decided not to push through with a possible candidacy in the 2022 Senate race as he chose instead to finish the projects his agency is undertaking.
“I want to finish as much and as many as I could finish until the end the term of President Duterte. I would like to maximize the improvement that we can do in the transportation landscape,” the transport chief said.
“By the projects we have completed and will complete, we will put meat and meaning to the mandate of the President in making the Filipino life convenient and comfortable by improving connectivity and mobility. If we have mobility and connectivity, then it can be said that we are also helping in triggering the upward surge of the economy after the pandemic,” Tugade said.