THE Japanese government has approved ¥3.1 billion (P1.44 billion) worth of technical assistance for four infrastructure projects in the Philippines as it reaffirms its commitment to support the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

In a statement on Sunday, the Department of Finance (DoF) quoted Japanese officials as saying technical assistance would be given for the construction of a fourth Cebu-Mactan bridge and coastal road; Subic Bay masterplan; the Parañaque spillway, and the Cagayan de Oro-Malaybalay section of the central Mindanao highway project.

Philippine and Japanese officials held the 10th meeting of the Philippines-Japan Joint Committee on Infrastructure Development and Economic Cooperation via video conference on Oct. 28.

The DoF said the two countries also plan to sign the second loan agreement for the first phase of the Metro Manila Subway Project in the first quarter of 2021.

Tokyo also pledged to provide more technical assistance and related grants to the Philippines with highly concessional payment terms, and could be taken from its Special Terms of Economic Partnership, before Manila becomes an upper-middle income economy by 2022.   

Japanese officials also pledged their commitment to strengthen the country’s bilateral ties with the Philippines under the new leadership of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who replaced Shinzo Abe in September.

“Our commitment to this long-standing partnership has proved beneficial amidst these trying times. Our cooperation in accelerating infrastructure development will be most critical in the country’s recovery from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in the statement.

Between March and September, the two countries signed five loan agreements and three exchanges of notes amid the pandemic.

The agreements include a ¥50-billion (P23-billion) emergency loan for the Philippines’ pandemic response and another ¥50 billion (P23 billion) for a post-disaster standby loan; as well as the financing extended for the Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement project; ¥18.5 billion (P9 billion) for the Davao City Bypass Construction project; and ¥119 billion (P55 billion) for the Cebu-Mactan Bridge and Coastal Road construction project.

The Department of Finance said the two countries also considered the potential impact of the pandemic on the ongoing and pipeline infrastructure projects, especially on worker safety, a possible increase in total cost of projects, immigration concerns, and timeline.

They also discussed programs that will speed up the economic development and peace process in Mindanao, especially with the newly established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The two countries have met regularly since March 2017 to discuss Japan-backed infrastructure projects in the Philippines.

Japan is the Philippines’ biggest source of official development assistance (ODA), with $10.1 billion worth of loan and grant commitments as of June, accounting for 38.53% of the latter’s total ODA portfolio. — B.M.Laforga