By 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.
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 email@example.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.