By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporter

THE NATIONAL Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, chaired by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., on Thursday approved 194 flagship infrastructure projects worth P9 trillion, as well as the amendments to joint venture (JV) guidelines.

NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the new list of infrastructure flagship projects and amendments to the agency’s JV rules are “game-changing initiatives that aim to further raise investments and transform the Philippine economic landscape.”

At a televised Palace briefing on Thursday, Mr. Balisacan said the new infrastructure flagship projects will help address constraints to investment and expansion, as well as create more jobs.

The bulk of the 194 projects are related to physical connectivity and water resources, which consists of projects in irrigation, water supply, and flood management. 

Other projects are related to digital connectivity, health, power and energy, and agriculture.

Of the total, 123 are new projects and were initiated by the current administration. The remaining 71 were from previous administrations, particularly the Duterte administration.

Mr. Balisacan said that of the total projects, 95 are currently being implemented while eight have secured government approval. Forty-seven projects are now undergoing preparations, while 44 are in the pre-project stage.

New projects on the list include the Panay Railway Project, Mindanao Railway Project III, North Long Haul Railway, San Mateo Railway, University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) Diliman Project, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Rehabilitation Project, Ilocos Sur Trans-basin Project, and the Metro Cebu Expressway.   

Mr. Balisacan said these “high-impact and urgently needed infrastructure” projects will be funded through various development partners, the National Government, and the private sector.

Forty-five of these flagship projects will be financed through partnerships with the private sector.

“To hasten the rollout of these projects, the Marcos administration is strongly promoting the utilization of public-private partnerships (PPPs),” he added.

A number of projects will be operational in the next few years, particularly irrigation and health-related projects.

“Those can move quickly because they are PPPs and won’t involve much right of way acquisition. They can be quite quick,” the NEDA secretary said.

To prevent delays, Mr. Balisacan said Mr. Marcos will order the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) to make sure that agencies involved in issuing permits and licenses will prioritize these flagship projects.

“Where we might encounter a bit of difficulty are areas where we have to acquire right of way… in the past, these have been some of the bottlenecks. Agencies are so slow to issue licenses,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Balisacan said the NEDA Board approved amendments to the agency’s joint venture guidelines, which were last revised in 2013.

“The amendments aim to enhance competition for projects under joint ventures, ensure better performance of private-sector participants, and improve checks and balances to ensure that the project is technically and financially sound,” the NEDA Secretary said.

A copy of the final version of the JV rules was not available as of press time.

Under the draft rules released last year, tolls, fees and rates will be subject to the approval of the appropriate regulatory body. These can also be adjusted during the life of a contract, based on an approved formula or adjustment schedule.

The draft rules also require JVs to get approval for amendments to the agreement, including increases in the project cost.

“What we are addressing there is to simplify the JVs. Again, to make sure that JVs can move efficiently and quickly and address the public interest concerns, putting in place features that improve the competitive processes in the selection of JV partners,” Mr. Balisacan said.

The approved guidelines are also aligned with the recently revised implementing rules and regulations of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law, as well as the proposed PPP Act.

The PPP Act, which seeks to revise the BOT law, has been approved by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate.

“Recognizing that our country has much work to do to catch up with our dynamic neighbors in the region, we will pursue high-impact initiatives that aim to encourage greater local and foreign investment and private sector participation in infrastructure development,” Mr. Balisacan added.

This year, the government plans to spend 5-6% of gross domestic product (GDP) on infrastructure.