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EDITORIAL - ‘Golden age of infrastructure’

A subway in Metro Manila. Other projects to improve mass transportation as well as sanitation, solid waste management, flood control, telecommunications – you name it. All in all, the government aims to build approximately P3.6 trillion worth of projects under the so-called TRIP, or three-year rolling infrastructure program from 2018 to 2020.

TRIP was unveiled at a forum dubbed “Dutertenomics” the other day, coinciding with the opening of several infrastructure projects built by the private sector. The inadequacy of infrastructure in this country has been among the top complaints of investors. Administration officials have vowed that the Duterte presidency will be remembered as a “golden age of infrastructure.” As of last January, the government reported that 64 big-ticket infrastructure projects were either in the pipeline or being implemented. These included roads, railway projects and airport and seaport modernization.

Each administration has had its own infrastructure program. But numerous projects in the past were derailed by corruption scandals, voluminous red tape, the lack of feasibility studies and counterpart funds as well as sheer official ineptitude. The country cannot guarantee the sanctity of contracts, while corrupt judges derail projects by selling indefinite restraining orders. Regulators are also weak and susceptible to bribes.

The sad consequence is that the country has been left behind by many of its Asian neighbors in terms of quality of infrastructure. This in turn has affected development efforts, levels of foreign direct investment and job generation. While the country has registered sustained economic growth, which is considered the fastest in the region, the figures in real terms pale when compared to neighboring countries. Among the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Filipinos trail in terms of income levels and purchasing power as well as many quality of life indicators.

President Duterte has vowed to be harsh on the corrupt, and the nation is holding him to his promise. Most infrastructure projects get bogged down in red tape, with personnel at almost every stage from barangay offices to local governments and national agencies demanding grease money. Contracts are scrapped or altered whimsically. If President Duterte can eliminate these problems, he might yet deliver on his promise of a golden age.

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