By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Thursday expressed disappointment with the perceived slow progress of big-ticket infrastructure projects after economic officials said earlier that a little more than half of the expanded list would be completed 2022 when he ends his six-year term.
“Two years na lang. Anong magagawa ko sa two years? Mag-iiwan ako ng mga projects na hindi talaga matapos (I have two years left in my term. What can I accomplish in two years? There are projects that I will leave unfinished),” Mr. Duterte said during his visit at the Taguig City Center for the Elderly on Thursday evening. A transcript of his speech was published on the Presidential Communications Operations Office Web site.
“So pagdating niyan, mag-alis ako, puro naumpisahan, sabihin ng mga tao, sabihin ng mga kalaban mo, ‘O tingnan mo Duterte, umalis. Tignan mo ‘yung mga projects, iniwan. (So, come 2022, I will step down with projects begun and people will say — especially my opponents — ‘Look at Duterte, he stepped down; look at the projects he left behind).”
The remarks followed his administration’s revision of its Infrastructure Flagship Program (IFP) to include more public-private partnerships (PPP) and remove those deemed no longer feasible. The Duterte administration began its term in in mid-2016 by putting PPP in the back seat as a project financing mode — even as some conglomerates and foreign chambers had expressed concern with the change — in favor of state appropriations and official development assistance (ODA), arguing that PPP projects have been slow to start. PPPs have been largely relegated to local projects.
The administration was recently criticized by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, who described implementation of “Build, Build, Build” as a “dismal” failure. Mr. Drilon made the statement after learning that only nine out of the 75 projects on the original flagship infrastructure list have begun more than halfway into Mr. Duterte’s term.
The list now consists of 100 projects, including 29 PPP projects — up from nine originally. Fifty-six projects in the new list are expected to be completed by 2022. The National Economic and Development Authority estimated the revised IFP to cost around P4.2 trillion. The latest list has 22 projects, worth P167.95 billion, to be funded by the national budget; 49 others costing P2.31 trillion to be funded by ODAs and 29 PPP projects that will cost the government P1.77 trillion.
Under former President Benigno S.C. Aquino III, the government awarded 12 infrastructure projects under PPP — his administration’s preferred mode of project funding as it kept state spending at bay in order to achieve higher credit ratings. Only three on that list were completed when Mr. Aquino stepped down in mid-2016: Daang-Hari SLEX Link Road (Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway) Project, the Automatic Fare Collection System and the PPP for School Infrastructure Project Phase I.
Sought for comment, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines President Nabil Francis said much depends on enactment before yearend of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget and resolving right-of-way issues that have plagued many major infrastructure projects.
“The ECCP recognizes that infrastructure development is key to economic progress. Hence, we support the current administration’s commitment to improve the state of the country’s infrastructure through its flagship ‘Build, Build, Build’ program and other key infrastructure projects,” Mr. Francis said in a mobile phone message on Friday.
“To avoid further delays, the ECCP also urges the government to pass the national budget on time to facilitate the roll-out of the pipeline especially the big-ticket items. The chamber also trusts the government’s efforts to address right-of-way issues and other concerns that may have caused bottlenecks in infrastructure projects.”