By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent

Samal Bridge, Mindanao rail named priorities

Posted on April 03, 2017

DAVAO CITY -- Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno identified the priority projects in Mindanao that are planned for construction starting this year or early 2018, including the Davao-Samal Bridge and the Mindanao Railway System.

Fishing boats on the Davao Gulf, which will be bridged between Davao City and Samal Island. -- CARMENCITA A. CARILLO
“We’re going to construct a bridge from Davao to Samal Island that will be constructed starting this year,” Mr. Diokno told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the Mindanao Trade and Investment Forum organized by the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines at the Marco Polo Davao last Friday.

The forum was attended by a British delegation of investors, with British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad, members of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., and representatives of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

Mr. Diokno said the feasibility study (FS) and the source of public funds for the long-planned Davao-Samal Bridge is being finalized.

“In fact, for the longest time it was not a priority of President [Rodrigo R.] Duterte... [But] we asked him last week, he said, ‘okay, we cannot stop progress, let’s do it,’” Mr. Diokno said.

The first phase of the Mindanao Railway System, covering an initial 100 kilometers, is being eyed for construction by the fourth quarter or early 2018.

Funding will come from Official Development Assistance and through a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement, but Mr. Diokno declined to give further details as discussions are ongoing.

He said among those that have expressed interest in funding the railway are the Chinese government and Philippine private firms who are already involved in other major infrastructure projects, including PPPs.

Once completed, the railway system will span some 2,000 kilometers connecting major cities on the southern island, including Davao, Zamboanga, Butuan, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and General Santos.

Mr. Diokno said there is also a plan to build bridges between Luzon to the Visayan islands, and Visayas to Mindanao. The proposed connections are Sorsogon-Northern Samar and Leyte-Surigao.

“The Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao road FS is done. The Luzon-Visayas start of construction is targeted in 2019,” he said.

Mr. Diokno noted that for this year, the government has allocated close to P900 billion for infrastructure development, representing about 5.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).

“The last time we hit the benchmark of 5% of GDP for infrastructure spending was more than 30 years ago. In fact, for the last 30 years we have only been spending 2% to 3% of GDP for public infrastructure,” he noted.

Mr. Diokno added, “This is only a down payment because we intend to spend between P8 trillion to P9 trillion for public infrastructure during the entire term of President Duterte.”

The Budget secretary also cited a commitment for infrastructure funding assistance of at least $9 billion from China and an equal amount from Japan.

“So we got $18 billion dollars already available, and we will start construction this year and some next year,” he said.

Mr. Diokno said the funding for infrastructure will be complemented by the implementation of reforms to ensure that resources are translated to concrete projects.