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Fact check: Duterte actually inherited 'implementation-ready' infra projects from Aquino

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Fact check: Duterte actually inherited 'implementation-ready' infra projects from Aquino
Crane lowers a coach of the new MRT-7 train set onto the tracks near the Tandang Sora station on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City(September 11, 2021). The train set from South Korea was transported on low-bed trucks from the Manila Harbor Center Port Terminal.
Miguel De Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:41 p.m.) — Did President Benigno Aquino III end his term without leaving his successor, Rodrigo Duterte, any implementation-ready infrastructure projects? 

The short answer is no.

CLAIM: At an economic briefing the day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address last Monday, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the previous administration did not inherit a list of infrastructure projects that were ripe for implementation when it took over in mid-2016.

Diokno served as budget secretary for half of Duterte’s six-year term before he was appointed as central bank governor in March 2019.

RATING: This is false

The facts

What Diokno says: The finance chief was responding to a question on whether there was still enough fiscal space for the Marcos administration’s infrastructure plan, which would pick up where Duterte's left off. Infrastructure spending, as a share of the economy, is targeted to hit between 5-6% during Marcos’ entire term.

"When we came in… when the Duterte Administration came in we don’t have a list of ready-to-implement (infrastructure) projects. Now, the Duterte administration is leaving us some easily 200 ready-to-implement projects," Diokno said.

What Diokno left out: A list obtained by Philstar.com showed that as of end-2015, the Aquino administration had awarded 12 projects to be funded via public-private partnership (PPP), some of which were either completed or partially opened during Duterte’s term.

For example, the Duterte government opened the first section of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Expressway Phase 2 project in September 2016. The project — a four-lane elevated road that provides access to Terminals 1, 2 and 3 of NAIA for travelers coming from Skyway and Cavitex — was officially inaugurated in June 2017.

The list also showed Aquino left office with two infrastructure projects "under implementation", namely the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 project and the MRT Line 7 project. At the same time, two more projects — the LRT Line 4 project and NLEx-SLEx Connector Road project — were deemed ready for roll-out before Duterte took over.

The bigger context: Philippine history has shown that newly-elected presidents have always delayed — if not outright abandoned — pet projects pursued by their predecessors. 

Recall the Estrada administration’s move to scrap the Ramos government’s practice of providing sovereign guarantees for build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects. The Aquino administration, during its incumbency, grounded the Arroyo government’s infrastructure portfolio, causing economic growth to slow sharply in 2011.

But when Duterte came into office, then Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III himself had said the government would not abandon the Aquino administration’s "shovel-ready" projects. 

In fact, Duterte shifted the mode of funding for some Aquino-era projects to official development assistance (ODA) from PPP to supposedly avoid delays and higher project costs. Among those PPP projects that had been tweaked was the controversial Kaliwa Dam project, which will be funded by ODA from the Chinese government.

A few days before he left office, Duterte’s aides reported that his administration finished 12 out of 119 infrastructure flagship projects (IFP) under the “Build, Build, Build” program. This accounted for only 1.4% of the P5.08 trillion total cost needed to complete all these big-ticket projects. Of the 12 completed projects, two of them – the LRT 2 East Extension and the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 — started during the Aquino administration. 

At the onset of his presidency, Duterte vowed to jack up infrastructure and social spending to about 7.1% of gross domestic product until the end of his term. But for Zy-za Suzara, executive director at iLEAD, a policy think tank that focuses on public finance and good governance, the Duterte administration was unable to fulfill its promise of sustaining an uptrend in infrastructure spending.

"Truth of the matter is, it was the Aquino administration that steadily increased the budget for infrastructure. BBB (Build, Build, Build) builds upon that legacy," Suzara said in an interview.

Why it matters: Tuesday’s post-SONA economic briefing was meant to give more clarity to Marcos’ economic plans, which he unveiled in broad strokes during his first address to the Filipino people. The finance department said the event "gathered more than 500 members of the business sector, development partners, civil society, and the media to a face-to-face event with Cabinet Secretaries".

Apart from Diokno, other Cabinet officials who joined the post-SONA economic briefing were Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe Medalla, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman and Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual.

Why did we fact check this? The post-SONA economic briefing was livestreamed on both mainstream and state-owned media properties online, including People's Television Network and Radio Television Malacanang.RTVM's stream on Facebook has garnered over 375,000 views and 1,500 reactions as of press time, while PTV's YouTube video has nearly 4,800 views.

According to CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring tool maintained by Facebook's parent company Meta, the video appeared on 19 separate accounts and was shared 13 times.

READ: 'Zero' infrastructure projects during Aquino administration? Not quite

Officials of the Duterte administration also often repeated the claim to call attention to the supposed gains of the flagship Build, Build, Build project.— reviewed by Franco Luna and Kristine Joy Patag

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This story is supported by the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts.

Philstar.com is also a founding partner of Tsek.ph, a collaborative fact-checking project for the 2022 Philippines’ elections and an initiative of academe, civil society groups and media to counter disinformation and provide the public with verified information.

Want to know more about our fact-checking initiative? Check our FAQs here. Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at [email protected].

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