INFRASTRUCTURE spending slumped in the first quarter, as public construction activities were temporarily halted in March due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed disbursements on infrastructure and other capital outlays dropped 12.4% to P156.1 billion in the January to March period, due to “base effect of high infrastructure expenditures” a year ago, and the “temporary suspension of construction activities due to the ECQ.”

The latest figure fell short of its P191.1-billion program set by the Development and Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) in late March.

“Infrastructure and other capital outlays was below the P191.1 billion program by P35.0 billion or 18.3% resulting mainly from the combined effects of the delays experienced during the ECQ, pending submissions of budget requests and documentary requirements for the release of For Later Release (FLR) capital outlays, as well as the late/incomplete submission of documentary requirements to facilitate release of funds/payments,” DBM said in the report published Monday.

For March alone, infrastructure and other capital expenditures rose 4.1% to P62.2 billion. DBM attributed this to the payment of right-of-way acquisition for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Cavite Extension and Metro Manila subway project, and higher payments to suppliers of foreign-assisted projects.

“The increase in capital expenditures was dampened by lower DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) disbursements following the unintended delays in the implementation of some infrastructure projects due to restrictions imposed during the Luzon-wide ECQ starting in early March this year to control the spread of COVID-19,” DBM said.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) did not allow construction work on big-ticket infrastructure projects during the ECQ. Earlier this month, work on public and essential private projects were allowed to resume under both ECQ and general community quarantine.

For the second quarter, DBM said ongoing programs of the government and infrastructure projects “will continue to face unintended delays” as lockdown continued through May.

However, it said infrastructure spending should “gradually restart once the ECQ is lifted.”

“The lower-than-programmed spending performance during the first three months of the year is, thus, expected to be offset in the second quarter with the reprioritization, reprogramming, and realignments of existing programs, activities, and projects (PAPs) of the government and measures to generate savings to finance COVID-19 emergency response pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” DBM said.

The government is banking on the resumption of construction work on flagship infrastructure projects in the second half to help the economy get back on track. — Beatrice M. Laforga