Beyond project studies

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Sen. Cynthia Villar once castigated some bureaucrats defending research budgets in a Senate hearing: “Baliw na baliw sa research wala naman nangyayari.”

I can understand her impatience. I have been feeling that way too. But let us be clear exactly what research or studies waste funds and what is necessary.

Research done by scientists in Los Baños, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo and elsewhere in the country to improve rice varieties and to develop aquaculture are useful.

For example, durian became a profitable crop in Malaysia largely because of investment in R&D. They now produce better tasting and better quality (meaty) durian than our local variety.

Same is true for coffee. In Vietnam, they can harvest 3,000 kilos of Robusta per hectare compared to ours, which is around 600 kilos.

Palm oil is four to five times more oil productive than our coconut because of the Malaysian investments in palm oil research. I saw the palm oil research center on a visit to KL some years ago. Malaysia and Thailand did the same thing for rubber.

As one expert observed, we need an Agriculture Secretary who fully understands the role of R&D in agricultural development and who will upscale implementation of productivity enhancing programs.

We need the private agricultural sector’s collaboration to be able to do this.Problem is, if you look at all DA plans and strategies, there is no serious private sector engagement strategy.

Sonny Dominguez observed that “government’s role is primarily in providing direction and funding for research, as well as extension e.g., education on farming and farm management technology, laboratories for soil and leaf tissue analysis, access to the appropriate genetic material for the private sector to propagate and market.”

In infrastructure, many project studies are not implemented.

The Philippine bureaucracy has a serious inability to implement good projects that are already covered by extensive project studies. We are wasting not just our money, but also the money of foreign taxpayers who finance such studies.

One suspects these feasibility studies are made to benefit consultants from here and abroad and are not intended for actual implementation.

My friend, Rene Santiago, an expert in transportation systems, corrected my impression that no one has started to think of a mass transport system for Davao. “There is a plan for mass transit for Davao. As well as for the airport,” Rene informed me.

Indeed, there is a JICA study for Davao City that is detailed – with an intra-urban traffic forecast on an urban network that Rene helped prepare.

But DoTr invited proposals for another master plan study, most likely to spend unused budget, that repeats the JICA prepared plan. The study is the end objective, not its implementation.

Well, we all know what happened. The Duterte administration opted for the unsolicited proposals of a certain businessman from Davao who promised to build these “at no cost to the government”.

Rene also said ADB is financing the Davao public transport modernization, which seeks to replace more than 8,000 jeepneys with about 2,500 Euro style buses. It is in the Build Build Build list. Aboitiz Equity Ventures and Freddie Tinga are also testing EV mini buses providing free rides and financed by advertising.

Dr. Fermin Adriano also informed me that as early as the 1990s, when Paul Dominguez was the presidential assistant for Mindanao under the Ramos administration, there was already a proposal to construct an LRT from Digos to Tagum, and another one from Cagayan de Oro to Iligan.

A platoon of consultants was recruited, funded by USAID, to formulate the 17 volume Mindanao Development Framework Plan or “Mindanao 2000”. All the arterial roads improving and connecting one Mindanao city to another are contained in the plan, forming a circumferential road loop around the island.

It took many years to build the arterials due to lack of funds for the island. There is progress in the eastern backbone from Surigao, Agusan, all Davao provinces down to GenSan.

The northern portion from Surigao, Agusan Norte to Misamis provinces is completed. It is in the western side, the Zamboanga peninsula that encountered delays due to funding problems and peace and order challenges.

Dr. Adriano lamented that “we just have too many plans, but implementation is a problem. On top of that, our politicians have different priorities than what the scientifically based plan done by technically competent consultants formulated. Our dysfunctional democracy is consigning the country to backwardness and poverty.”

He cites a study of farm to market roads (FMRs) by the World Bank that revealed – 1) there are no logical economic criteria (e.g., growth potentials, poverty incidence, strategic location, etc) used in providing FMRs; 2) 70 percent of the decision on where to construct them come from the DA Central; and 3) when the team took onsite visits of FMRs in selected provinces in various regions of the country, many of them are not connected to each other.

Those projects are not called farm-to-pocket roads for nothing!

Dr. Adriano observed that in countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, etc. they have a five-year framework/ indicative plan that provides the direction for the development efforts and then programs and projects follow the plan.

An expert involved in two recent NEDA-funded master plans on sustainable infrastructure (Central Luzon and Metro Olongapo) said they completed pre-feasibilities for at least five key priority infra/projects identified, but nothing has been heard of the priority projects.

NEDA also funded other master plans for five to six other regional hubs, including for Manila Bay, hopefully they will be in the priorities in the new Philippine Development Plan. Currently, very little has been heard of these priorities from the master plans.

I am told Paul’s aim for advocacy for Mindanao’s development will be continued by stakeholders after his departure from government. But the weakness now is that there is no more research back up to bolster advocacy work.

Salt industry people told me that there are studies for the development of the salt industry with BFAR. Now we are importing 93 percent of our salt. Hay naku, BFAR!

Our government finds it difficult to execute good plans and programs. Many agencies end the year with unutilized budgets. It is clear the taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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