THE Philippine government is eyeing more Japan-funded infrastructure projects this year, as the two countries eased the approval process of loan agreements in a bid to fast-track the implementation of infrastructure projects under the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

“As our ambitious ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program accelerates this year, we see more opportunities for financing and technical support from the Government of Japan,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said during a bilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Thursday. A copy of Mr. Dominguez’s opening statement was provided to the media.

During the meeting, Mr. Motegi said the Japanese government is set to mobilize $3 billion in funding through its recently launched Overseas Loan and Investment Initiative for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the next three years.

“Let us continue to jointly discuss how to formulate development projects that can be the subject under this initiative,” he said.

Mr. Motegi said the total funding already includes the $1.2 billion in overseas loans and investments for ASEAN members by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

He added that the two countries now “enjoy a broad based, multilayered development, including economy, infrastructure development, security, people-to-people exchanges.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Dominguez said the two countries have already agreed to shorten the approval process of loan agreements down to an average of three to four months.

“The high-level committee has shortened the approval process of our loan agreements to an average of three to four months. This demonstrates our shared commitment to work closely to ensure that the Filipino people get the benefit of these projects at the lowest possible costs and the soonest possible time,” the Finance chief said.

Japan has also committed to creating a masterplan to redevelop Subic Bay, which was once the biggest American naval base outside of the United States.

“With the Memorandum of Cooperation for this commitment signed last month in Hakone, we look forward to Japan’s swift creation of the action plan for this project,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“Given what we have achieved in developing the Clark special economic zone, I am confident that the full development of the Subic Bay will provide another important node for knowledge-based industries serving the whole of East Asia.”

To date, Japan is the country’s top source of official development assistance (ODA) with $8.63 billion in loans and grants as of September 2019, making up nearly half or 46% of the country’s total ODA loan portfolio.

Meanwhile, Japan has committed to providing an additional ¥4.4 billion (P2 billion) for the implementation of the second phase of the Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement Project.

“Just moments ago, Minister Motegi and I exchanged diplomatic notes on the Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement Project,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a briefing in Makati City, Thursday. “The project will reinforce our bridges, bringing them to superior seismic design specifications and making them resilient to large-scale tremors.”

The original loan agreement, worth ¥9.783 billion (P4.5 billion), was signed in August 2015.

The project is aimed at improving the resilience of two major bridges: Lambingan Bridge and Guadalupe Bridge. The additional loan will cover the increase in costs due to changes in construction technology for the Guadalupe Bridge, temporary detour bridges in Guadalupe, and additional work shifts for the construction period, among others.

Since President Rodrigo R. Duterte assumed office in 2016, 10 loan agreements have been signed between the Philippines and Japan.

This includes loans for the first phase of the Metro Manila Subway Project; the second New Bohol Airport Construction and Sustainable Environment Protection Project; Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) Rehabilitation Project; the fourth phase of the Pasig-Marikina River Channel Improvement Project; and the North-South Commuter Railway Extension Project. — Beatrice M. Laforga and Charmaine A. Tadalan