By Camille A. Aguinaldo
SENATORS are open to a law that institutionalizes the government’s intensified infrastructure development program to ensure continuity of flagship projects after President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s term ends in mid-2022.
“I concur especially if some projects will go beyond the term of the incumbent president,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a mobile phone message on Saturday when asked if the measure can be taken up in the 18th Congress which begins in late July, while Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto said in a separate text message: “Yes, it can be legislated but its implementation will still be dependent on our fiscal space.”
In a March 5 Senate hearing on the “Build, Build, Build” program, REID Foundation’s Ronilo M. Balbieran cited the need to institutionalize the government’s infrastructure program to ensure funding continuity for infrastructure projects.
“‘Build, Build, Build’ is working but we need to institutionalize and, if possible, legislate ‘Build, Build, Build.’ In what sense? That this five percent of GDP (gross domestic product) allocation for budget and disbursement [for infrastructure development] must be continued beyond the Duterte administration,” Mr. Balbieran said.
“What happens in the next President’s administration? Are we still going to allocate five percent of GDP in the budget for public infrastructure?”
Philippine Constructors Association (PCA) executive director Barry G. Paulino also said last month that the 10-year infrastructure road map that the construction industry has drawn up included institutionalization of a master development plan for the “Build, Build, Build” program.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on economic affairs, said Mr. Balbieran’s suggestion was a “good proposal,” but noted that the funding aspect of the infrastructure program will need more study.
“It’s a good proposal… so that there’s continuity and we all know… more than half of those projects will go beyond the time of President Duterte. We don’t want the next administration to say, ‘I don’t like this project,’” Mr. Gatchalian said in an interview after a public hearing.
“We’re just studying whether the funding should also be legislated. The projects can be legislated, no problem, but the funding… For example, do you legislate ODA (official development assistance)? For example, in the (Metro Manila) subway, if ODA is the source of funding, what if next year we have GAA (General Appropriations Act) funding for the project so we won’t be needing ODA because it’s cheaper, you don’t pay interest. Maybe if legislate alone, we’re going to be tied then.”
However, Senator Joel J. Villanueva said the proposal may be unnecessary.
“The GAA allocates and guarantees funding for the implementation of our infrastructure projects under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program. As a legislative act, it is sufficient to ensure that funds are available for these projects,” he said in a text message.
“It is unnecessary to have another law that will institutionalize the ‘Build, Build Build’ program. What is needed is for the Executive to ensure that these projects are implemented and completed within the expected timeline.”
According to a January assessment of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), 47 of the 75 flagship infrastructure projects are expected to be completed beyond 2022, or after Mr. Duterte ends his six-year term.
The Department of Budget and Management reported on March 6 that state infrastructure spending totaled some P886.2 billion in 2018, equivalent to 5.1% of GDP and higher than the target of P868.6 billion for that year.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo