By Gerard dela Peña
JULY 19, 2019 — President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he will usher in the “golden age of infrastructure” through his most ambitious plan yet — the “Build, Build, Build” program.
Three years into what is an integral part of “DuterteNomics,” how has the infrastructure plan progressed?
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) previously said most of the projects are “50 percent done,” with other major flagship projects set to be delivered this year and in 2020.
One of the largest projects is the Luzon Spine Expressway Network, a collective term for 23 superhighways in various stages of completion, which is meant to connect the northern and southern parts of Luzon and reduce travel time by almost half.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar in a Facebook post last January 2018 said the 1,040 kilometer expressway network will all be good to go in the next six years, or in 2024.
One of the infra-plan’s goals apart from reducing poverty is to cut congestion in Metro Manila, and the eight-kilometer South Luzon Expressway-North Luzon Expressway connector road will do just that in 2021, one year before Duterte’s term ends.
In the same year, the 7.7-kilometer C5 South Link Expressway will minimize travel time between Cavite and Taguig to 30 minutes maximum from the typical one-and-a-half hours. A portion of it, the one connecting Taguig and Parañaque, is set to open next week.
Last March, Segment 10 of the NLEX Harbor Link, which connects Valenzuela to C-3, was opened. This means motorists need not to traverse EDSA and Balintawak Toll Plaza.
Meanwhile, the controversial five-minute ride from Quezon City to Makati that Duterte promised in one of his speeches is the aim of Skyway Stage 3, which is eyed to be completed by 2020.
This links the present elevated highway from Alabang to Buendia all the way to Balintawak in Quezon City. Once portions of the Skyway extension opens, heavy traffic in the metro is expected to ease.
The Build, Build, Build not only focuses on Luzon. Several less hectic projects in Visayas and Mindanao had also been finished, like the Mambaling Underpass in Cebu, the Palo Bypass Road which serves as an alternate route to Tacloban, and the Cagayan de Oro Coastal Road which was completed in 2017.
While land travel is the utmost priority of the plan, advancing air connectivity through either completion or upgrade of 17 commercial airports had also been ticked off the list. Two new international airports —
Lallo International Airport in Cagayan and the country’s first eco-airport Bohol-Panglao International Airport — have been built.
Two other international and 13 domestic airports were upgraded.
Meawhile, more than half of the 400 planned ports scattered across the country had also been finished.
Fourteen new stations in the under-construction MRT Line-7 will cover 22.8 kilometers from North Avenue in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.
By 2021, eight new stations of LRT-1 will stretch the line from Pasay City to further south in Parañaque, Las Piñas and Bacoor City in Cavite. Phase 1 of the project, covering five stations from Pasay to Parañaque, is expected to be completed in 2022.
Meanwhile, once fully operational in six years, the country’s first intercity underground railway is expected to help passengers reach Ninoy Aquino International Airport from Mindanao Avenue, in Quezon City and vice-versa, in 30 minutes.
Last February, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) led the groundbreaking ceremony of the P356.96 billion project which will cover 36 kilometers.
The DOTr aims to get the first three stations up and running by 2022. The subway trains will run at up to 80 kilometers per hour.
The entire project is likely to hit a whopping P8-trillion. But the administration has already figured out the math, with 25 percent of the shouldered cost coming from countries like Japan, China, Korea among other, while the rest will be culled from domestic funds.
Concerns on sustainability continue to hound the project though, with some computations pointing out to a swollen debt-to-GDP ratio.
Economic think-tank Ibon Foundation said before that the infrastructure program will only drive the country deep into further debt, because of the country’s less responsive industrial, economic, and bureaucratic set-up.
But according to the administration’s economic managers, the country’s economy is seen to grow by about 6.4 percent next year with the help of the infrastructure projects.
Yet Ibon remains cautious of its prospects.
“Ang problema sa amin ay yung gains from infrastructure in terms of productivity ay hindi commensurate dun sa gastos at utang na pinapasukan doon,” Ibon Director Jose Africa said in an interview.
“Totoong ikatutuwa natin kung may mas magandang tren at mas magandang kalsada. Pero ang usapin, kaya ba nating bayaran ang kaginhawaan na ‘yun? Sa tingin namin hindi,” he added.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) sees the road projects as beneficial especially since in its 2017 report, the Philippines lost P3.5-billion daily from its economy from Metro Manila traffic alone.
Failure to solve this will blow up the number to P5.4-billion within the next 16 years.
With all these blipping in the economic radar, the Duterte administration is likely to stay on course and navigate the busy highway of groundwork politics. (With Randell Ritumalta/ AAD)