By Mico Agustin

ECONOMISTS and political observers are unanimous in declaring that the daily traffic jams especially in Metro Manila is one of the reasons why the country could not seem to take off economically.

In fact, a study conducted by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) some three years back indicated that the country is losing some P4 –B daily because of   traffic gridlock plaguing the streets of Metro Manila.

Aside from huge economic costs, traffic jams also result to untold frustrations among those who have to endure them daily not to mention the social costs they entail among families affected by the same.

Fully aware of the miseries of the people, it is imperative therefore for President Rodrigo Duterte and his economic managers to address the situation and solve it in the best and fastest way they can.


Golden Age of Infrastructure 

To address the problem, the Duterte government has decided to embark on massive infrastructure program with the end view of not only solving traffic and transportation problems but equally important is to pave the way for a more progressive and economically strong Philippines.

The program dubbed Dutertenomics or the ‘build, build, build’ program may sound ambitious, but it is now rolling its way forward. 

The program spells out the economic policies of the government, specifically the 10-point socioeconomic agenda, which primarily aims to reduce poverty from 21.6 percent in 2015 to 13 to 15 percent by 2022. 

The said economic policies were supportive of the broader 10-point reform strategy of the president.

Aside from poverty reduction, another major plank of the socioeconomic program will be a a big infrastructure push, which Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said would usher a “golden age of infrastructure” in the Philippines.

Infrastructure spending of the Duterte administration in its first year would represent 5.4 percent of Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the highest level since the Marcos era, when infrastructure expenditure was at 3.2 percent of the GDP.


Big Ticket Projects

Big-ticket infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, mass urban and subway systems are among key priorities meant to address severe traffic congestion in urban areas, inadequate mass transport facilities, air pollution and lack of healthy, green livable community spaces.

This month, the Metro Manila subway project gets underway as Department of Transportation (DOTr) and partners from JICA presented updates on the feasibility study being conducted on the said mega project.

The “Dutertenomics” forum last April, showcased the priority projects of the Duterte administration to usher in what it called the country’s “golden age of infrastructure”.

Transportation Secretary Art Tugade said back then that the Mega Manila Subway system may be initiated as early as 2019.

Tugade said the P227-billion project, “one of the very ambitious projects of the Duterte administration,” would be funded by the government and through official development assistance. 

He added that it promised to bring commuters from Quezon City to Taguig in just 31 minutes.


P3.6T Infra Projects

At the same forum last April, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the administration planned to roll out more than P3.6 trillion in public infrastructure projects from 2018 to 2020.

Pernia said the administration would also increase the number of “game-changing” projects that it would roll out and complete before 2022.

He said the Philippines would experience its “golden age of infrastructure” from 2017 to 2022.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said a total of P8.4 trillion would be spent for infrastructure during the six-year Duterte administration so that the share of infrastructure spending in the gross domestic product would rise from 5.4 percent this year to 7.4 percent in 2022.

To complement the Dutertenomics program, the palace even launched the build.gov.ph website that contains the details of the administration’s infrastructure projects, including the cost and the status.


Subway Connection

For his part, Tugade has proposed that the subway should extend all the way to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and to be operational before the end of Duterte’s term.

"I need to have that connectivity. I have a big problem with NAIA because of the projected increase in volume of passengers," he said.

The subway alignment originally has 13 stations, starting from Mindanao Avenue until FTI Taguig to cut travel time from Quezon City to Taguig to just 31 minutes.

JICA also presented possible organizational arrangements to ensure that the subway will be constructed, operated, and maintained by a competent and dedicated team of certified operators and experts as Tugade suggested a training facility for railway operators.

The mega project will also feature water stop panels, doors, and high- level entrance for flood prevention, earthquake detection and a train ‘stop’ system.

President Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to sign a loan agreement for the Mega Manila Subway Project during the latter’s visit to the Philippines in November.


Eco Friendly Jeepneys

Another aspect of the proposed economic plans by the current administration, the Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) Modernization Program is targeted before the end of 2017 with the purchase of eco – friendly PUVs.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who chairs the Board of Investments (BOI), said that deliberations are being made on the design of the main vehicle for the PUV manufacturing program, describing it as a “modern solution and a modern design for PUVs that are more efficient and safer.”

Headed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr), said program will modernize, not phase out, jeepneys as public vehicles.

The DoTr also lifted the ban on the issuance of new franchises for public utility vehicles after it signed yesterday the omnibus franchising guidelines (OFG) that would set in motion the three-year rollout of the agency’s modernization program.

This program is estimated to cost around P417.3 billion, in which Land Bank of the Philippines would earmark P1-B for it.


Other Projects

Meanwhile, eight other infrastructure projects are now awaiting approval by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) before the end of the month.

The remaining projects include the Malolos-Clark Airport-Clark Green City Rail, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Commuter Line stretching from Tutuban to Los Baños in Laguna, the PNR long-haul from Calamba to Bicol.

Also in the pipeline are the Clark International Airport New Terminal Building, the New Centennial Water Source—Kaliwa Dam Project, the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, Cavite Industrial Area Flood Management Project and the Mindanao Railway Project– Tagum-Davao-Digos segment.

All told, these nine projects will cost over P738 billion, with Mega Manila Subway being the most costly at P230 billion.

The NEDA Board, chaired by President Duterte, meets this week to approve the nine projects. These projects are most needed by the people, said NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia.

He said these projects will still go through procurement and bidding processes, which could take six months to a year before these are implemented.


Job Generation

“The government’s increased investments in infrastructure will usher in the Golden Age of Infrastructure through our Build-Build-Build campaign which is expected to employ millions of Filipinos in the next five years and spur economic activities by stimulating countryside development,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“The new roads, bridges and railways would make the flow of commodities and services cost- and time-efficient thereby expanding the domestic economy,” he added.

It must be stressed that many infra projects are outside NCR as the administration also wants to reduce poverty in those areas, by creating more jobs, like these projects. 


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