By Victor V. Saulon
THE GOVERNMENT on Thursday renewed its call on private businesses to deepen their participation in infrastructure and technology projects.
The call to the private sector was made during the 44th Philippine Business Conference & Expo at the Manila Hotel, the annual gathering hosted by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) during which it lists issues that it wants the government to resolve.
“We are falling behind our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors, and you know that — Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Cambodia and Laos and Myanmar are fast catching up because they are coming from a low base,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told conference participants.
The conference, which focused on infrastructure and the digital economy, highlighted these “game changers” that the country needs to develop further to catch up with its regional neighbors.
Mr. Pernia said the government is aware of the poor state of roads, airports, railways and bridges and although some have improved, much remain to be done. He said infrastructure is key to economic growth.
“Filipinos need efficient, safe and reliable modes of transportation, adequate and affordable electricity and water supply, sufficient social infrastructures like hospitals and schools, and efficient telco services, among others, to be productive,” he said.
“With a growing economy, the Philippines needs more and better infrastructure supply given our country’s archipelagic landscape, expanding population, rapid urbanization and other developments.”
Mr. Pernia said infrastructure development is a vital requirement in sustaining inclusive growth and addressing inequality and poverty in the country. He said the private sector plays an indispensable role in the government’s goal.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, the event’s keynote speaker, issued a similar call. “Government looks to all of you to contribute what you must so we can make up for lost time and lost opportunities,” he said.
In an interview, Francis Jose A. Alejandro, PCCI’s director for energy and power, said the government’s call was exactly what the private sector had been doing and that it was what businesses wanted: more participation in infrastructure projects.
“When the business people talk, it’s very simple and the process is shorter and faster compared to the government processes. Unfortunately, the government could not get out of that kind of process,” he said.
“If we are catching up with time, even before, PCCI has always been after that PPP program — public-private partnership participation,” he said.
“Time costs more money. Every time we drag any project, it becomes more expensive. Even if we make a slight error, it’s still cheaper in the end.”
On Thursday, the conference listed a new set of resolutions, which members of the PCCI approved after collating inputs from its various committees as well as the outcome of regional conferences this year.
The conference’s chairman this year, Ramon S. Ang, forwarded the list to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, calling the resolutions “some of the problems facing our country today and how PCCI can help address them.”
“The peso is weakening because of factors at home and abroad. A stronger US economy is drawing capital away from emerging markets like the Philippines. The gap between our imports and exports has widened. Even our BPO (business process outsourcing) and our OFW (overseas Filipino workers) remittances are not growing as fast as before,” he said.
Mr. Ang, who is also president and chief operating officer of conglomerate San Miguel Corp., said to help address the trade deficit, “we should import less luxury goods, which are unnecessary.”
“We should strengthen our export sector. We urge government to rethink any moves that would make our exporters less competitive.”
For the BPO sector, he said the country should start developing higher value services to offset the impact of artificial intelligence on traditional services.
“Our inflation rate is increasing due to high oil prices: from $50 per barrel last year, to $80 per barrel today. This has resulted in higher prices of food, which have increased by 10%,” he said.
“Natural calamities, the depreciating peso and many other factors have also not helped to keep costs stable.”
Aside from its position on issues like the shortage of cheap rice, its support for the government’s rethinking of the next round of fuel tax increases and farmers’ dwindling output, PCCI also addressed the government’s call for private sector involvement in infrastructure projects.
“Traffic is costing us losses of up to P3.5 billion a day or P1.2 trillion a year, and wasting millions of man-hours,” Mr. Ang said.
“When Skyway Stage 3 is completed, EDSA will be decongested by at least 40%. Government needs to work on resolving right-of-way issues. We need to connect Buendia to Macapagal, Qurino to Roxas Blvd. Right-of-way issues are slowing down the construction process.”
Mr. Ang said the private sector and the government need to study the Pasig river realignment.
“At EDSA-Rockwell flyover, we should build an elevated road that will allow you to pass through Boni Ave., Shaw Blvd., and go straight to Santolan in Quezon City. This will decongest traffic further,” he said.
“There are other transport solutions that should be implemented. We propose more elevated highways, and other mass transit systems.”
Mr. Ang also estimated the cost of airport runway congestion at more than P3 billion a day in terms of operation costs and productivity losses.
“We must build a new international airport with four parallel runways within an hour’s drive of major cities within Metro Manila, and connected by mass transit and major toll roads spanning north to south and east to west,” he said.
He said seaport congestion is also costing the country billions of pesos a day, pushing higher the cost of doing business.
“We need to build a major seaport outside Metro Manila,” he said.
“On average, we are losing P3-4 billion per year to traffic, airport and seaport congestion. If we can solve this, our cost of doing business will improve tremendously. This is what foreign investors are looking for,” Mr. Ang said.
PCCI also touched on the issue of flooding caused by rapid industrialization, garbage dumping in canals, creeks, esteros, ponds, rivers and other major waterways.
Mr. Ang said the government should first make sure that local government units are stricter in enforcing ordinances against garbage dumping and build a 15-meter diameter spillway from Laguna Bay to Manila Bay.
“These would provide a permanent solution to flooding in Metro Manila,” he said.
“Today, if we are to build a spillway it would cost $2 billion or roughly P11 billion. This will take two to three years to build.”
Mr. Ang said PCCI would help the government solve the problems he enumerated to ease the burden on Filipinos.
By Victor V. Saulon