In response to the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build battlecry, I’d say Go, Go, Go but to be extra careful of the pitfalls that usually surround infrastructure projects that involve governments, and in this case, the Philippines.’
We have not heard of scandalous allegations of corruption during the previous administration under PNoy because, let’s face it, there were very few big projects that were undertaken then and most of them were private enterprise-led.
Now that the state coffers are being ripped wide open and just about every company operating in the Philippines is eyeing any piece of the approved 5,000 projects, it’s not difficult to imagine how a “small” percent can help a corrupt public official retire in comfort for the rest of his life.
It doesn’t help too that the man heading the Department of Public Works and Highways is associated with a political family that has vast interests in real estate and real estate projects, and has been accused of influencing road projects that would benefit their properties.
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar recently gloated that the approved government spending this year alone of P450 billion would be more than the combined amount that was spent by the previous administrations from 2010 until 2016. That’s a big pie that would grow bigger with each year.
Over the next five years, a reported P8 trillion worth of infrastructure projects would be built to address what has often been regarded as the Achilles heel of the Philippines’ bid to become the next tiger economy of Asia.
Foreign investors have traditionally turned away from putting their money in the Philippines because of the inadequate infrastructure, which has always been regarded as crucial to sustaining any economic growth projections.
The inadequacy of infrastructure has also been regarded as a reason why poverty continues to permeate Philippine society, and why the aspiration of inclusive growth would be difficult to achieve at a quicker pace.
Golden age of infrastructure
Ushering in this year in what the Duterte government aspires to be the golden age of infrastructure in the Philippines are mostly road building projects that are lumped up under what is called the Luzon spine expressway network.
Due for completion by the time Duterte’s term as president ends are high-standard highways that will ease travel throughout the Luzon island where majority of economic activities are located, reducing time from Bicol to La Union to less than 12 hours.
These include the TR4 high-speed expressway going to Quezon and Lucena, the Quezon-Bicol expressway, the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, and the eastern alignment of the North Luzon Expressway.
The South Luzon Expressway and NLEX connector project which will cut travel time from Alabang to the Balintawak gate of NLEX to 30 minutes. The elevated NLEX Harbor Link Segment 10 project will provide a direct road from the port area to the northern parts of Luzon via NLEX, bringing travel time to just 10 minutes.
With so much money to be spent in the next five years, corruption is seen as the biggest issue despite pronouncements by the President that he would personally be responsible for ensuring there would be no scandals or allegations of irregular dealings.
It is estimated that about 10 to 30 percent of an infrastructure project’s cost is caught in a web of corrupt acts involving government officials. Businessmen often regard this money as part of the cost of facilitating project approval and completion.
Even foreign-funded government-to-government projects are not immune from corruption, as seen from the Chinese contracts for a $593-million railway project in 2003 and a $300-million national broadband network project in 2007. These were eventually put on hold.
China is now one of the biggest sources of funds that will bring to fruition this aspired golden age in Philippine infrastructure. Despite assurances by Duterte and the Chinese government that there will be no corruption involved, we are now wary because of the history of shady deals that the previous Chinese representatives were involved in.
The country’s legal system is also another major problem, where projects are often delayed because of suits and counter suits, starting with those who lost in the bidding proceedings, and progressing through right-of-way issues and other issues raised by the losing bidders.
This was the case of the NAIA Terminal 3, which eventually had to be settled in the international courts after hopelessly being mired and bogged down by the Philippine legal system.
Duterte’s bright men have been asking Congress to grant the President emergency powers to give him elbow room in conducting selective bidding, direct contracting, or negotiated procurement for materials or services for the projects.
The emergency powers would also restrain the lower courts from issuing temporary restraining orders or injunctions against the projects, with only the Supreme Court allowed the authority to issue such orders.
Aside from dangling the passage of better transparency and accountability laws over government employees and projects, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade with Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, and Villar are insisting that the President be granted emergency powers.
Tugade assures there will be no abuse of power that may lead to corruption.
On the other hand, if this country has a president that has made known to the whole world that he is above the law by pursuing a mass extermination of Filipinos who are suspected to have used, pushed or abused addictive substances, what’s the point of giving him emergency powers. Who wouldn’t fear him?
Compared to the gravity of pursuing a war on drugs on the streets, getting the infrastructure projects moving forward without impediments would be child’s play.
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