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Greenlights & impediments to infra dev’t

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By Andrew James Masigan

Andrew James Masigan

Andrew James Masigan

I have said it before and the same has been echoed by numerous political analysts – this administration will be judged not by its success on the war on drugs, but by its ability to bridge the infrastructure gap.

That said, the public waits in anticipation for the first big-ticket project of the Duterte administration to break ground. It cannot take credit  for  the NAIA Expressway nor the Runway Manila Footbridge  as these projects were well underway  during PNoy’s term.  After nine months with no major development, many are becoming impatient,  if not worried.  Questions fester as to  whether this administration has the political will and wherewithal  to get projects off the ground without  the crutch of emergency powers.

Last week,  Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade, along with his team  of undersecretaries, conducted a roundtable meeting  with members of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce.  It was  a discussion that was both informative and  sincere on the secretary’s part.   With complete candor, he  shared the true state of certain projects and the impediments of others.

First among the questions raised was whether it was still possible for the DOTr  to be granted emergency powers to expedite the roll-out of projects.  Emergency powers would allow the DOTr  to circumvent the slow-footed legal system. It  would allow it to exercise its rights  on   eminent domain, expedite  the procurement processes and render government immune from TRO’s, among others.

Lamentably, the DOTr’s request was  blocked by the legislature. Instead, it drafted a version  of emergency powers so far detached from achieving its  original purpose  that it is virtually useless. Sec. Tugade has come to terms with Congress’  lack of support. He has decided to forge ahead, with or without emergency powers. The process, however, will move much slower than originally planned.

Not withstanding the bureaucratic obstacles  that stand on the DOTr’s way, several projects are set  to be launched this year, disclosed the secretary.  Among them is the  100 kilometer Clark-Subic railway;   the  93 kilometer Tutuban-Clark (via Malolos) railway;  Phase 1 of the  Mindanao  railway; and the Tutuban-Bicol line (via Calamba), all of which will break-ground  on December.  At least that is the intent.

In addition,  during  Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit on July 17,   an agreement  will  be signed for the construction of Manila’s first subway to run from the FTI to BGC,  Makati and the Bay Area.

Also scheduled for  groundbreaking  in 2018 is  a monorail to connect BGC and  NAIA and a Bus Rapid Transit to traverse EDSA.  Financing  for both projects are in place.

On the aviation sector,  the Secretary declared that he is not in favor of  NAIA’s privatization as doing so will compromise the viability of Sangley which is less than 25 kilometers away. The DOTr’s direction is to simultaneously develop multiple airports and  allow market forces to determine its usage. The DOTr  is poised to award the contract for the Clark Airport redevelopment soon, possibly through a  PPP framework.

We have received information as to the interference of Congress on some PPP projects such as the bundled privatization of the Bacolod, Davao, Iloilo, Laguindingan and Bohol airports despite their being already in advanced stage of the PPP process.

As to why congress is suddenly interested  in the nitty-gritty of infrastructure  projects is a nagging question. After all,  its mandate  is to legislate laws, not  to participate in infrastructure planning. At this point,  Congress must be an enabler of infrastructure, not an obstruction to it.  To obstruct infrastructure will compromise the  supposed Duterte legacy, not to mention do the Filipino people  a disservice.

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Andrew is an economist, political analyst, and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.

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