Delayed and overpriced infrastructure projects
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - December 31, 2018 - 12:00am

Two and a half years have passed but the Duterte administration still has nothing much to show of its multi-trillion Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects. I hope they finalize the bid process for SMC’s Bulacan airport and NAIA rehab within the first quarter of the new year. According to Transportation Undersecretary for planning Reuben Reinoso the two projects – San Miguel Corporation’s P800-billion international airport in Bulacan province and NAIA Consortium’s P102-billion offer to modernize and operate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport – has yet to be cleared by the Investment Coordination Committee of the National Economic and Development Authority. So, it looks like it will take sometime for these proposed projects to be completed. The DOTR has acknowledged that the final awarding of key private sector-proposed airport projects in Manila and Bulacan could be completed by early 2019 at the soonest. Abangan!

What about the MRT mess? Last November Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, on behalf of the Philippine government, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) senior vice president Yasushi Tanaka signed the loan agreement for the MRT-3 Rehabilitation Project. The agreement states that JICA will provide about P18.76 billion or $362 million loan to partially fund the MRT’s rehabilitation which is estimated to cost P21.96 billion or approximately $413 million.

Dominguez said that the rehabilitation project would result in the expansion of the MRT’s current degraded capacity and modernization of all its subsystems. It is expected to increase the number of operating trainsets for MRT-3 from 15 to 20 during peak hours, with time intervals of train arrivals reduced from seen minutes to only three-and-a-half minutes and at the same time increase the trains’ speed from 30 kilometers per hour to 60 kph.

Sounds good but how true is the allegation that the estimate from the Japanese company Sumitomo for the project is only around P8 billion. I wonder what is the extra P10 billion for? Where will it go?

Next, still under DOTR, the P65 Billion LRT1 Extension to Bacoor, Cavite has not even started yet. It was awarded in 2014 to Ayala-MPIC Light Rail Metro Corporation (LRMC) under the Aquino administration and was supposed to start construction in 2015. According to the operator, the start of construction may be delayed anew. Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) president and chief executive officer Juan Alfonso said that preparations to commence construction are ongoing, but there are chances that it may be moved to the second quarter of 2019 from the previous first quarter target. So, is the construction ever going to happen as scheduled?

For the extension, LRMC will build eight new stations from Baclaran, namely, Redemptorist, NAIA Avenue, Asia World, Ninoy Aquino, Dr. Santos, Las Piñas, Zapote and Niog.

On the Metro Manila subway project, my friend, Rick Ramos wrote a letter to Finance Secretary Carlos G. Domiguez III last October 25, 2018 to reiterate his reservation on the Metro Manila 25-km subway project being built with JICA funding. He cited that Phase 1 alone would cost around P350 billion with no cost estimate for Phase 2 to complete the project. Assuming there is no cost over-run for Phase 1 and Phase 2 will cost the same (inflation factored in), then the total project cost would be around P700 billion.

In the case of Vietnam, the subway project in Ho Chi Min (Saigon) funded by JICA now has a cost over-run of almost $100 million because of delays. The same will surely happen in Metro Manila. So we can expect the total project cost of the subway to reach P1.0 trillion by 2025, which accounts to almost 1/3 of the 2018 national budget (GAA).

Other than the cost over-run, what is worse are the project delays in the Philippines. The 88.85 km TPLEX should have been completed in 2016. It is now two years delayed. Perhaps by Year 2020! The 13.5 km SLEX-NLEX Connector Road was supposed to have been finished by February 2017. Now at least 1.5 years delayed. Perhaps the section up to Quirino Avenue may open in four months by February 2019. The Connector Road would most likely open by early 2021 – another two years – at the rate the pace of construction is going.

Such high hopes and dreams for a better Philippines. But we must be wary of the many delays. We must be vigilant of the actions of our leaders. A fatal combination of corruption, incompetence and mediocrity will lead us nowhere.

* * *

The Department of Health and the Philippine Cancer Society said that cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in the country and breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the Philippines, taking 16 percent of the 50,000 diagnosed cancer cases. The Asian Breast Center, the only free standing clinic dedicated to the treatment of breast cancer said that one out of every four women in the Philippines will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and half of them will die of the disease.

Dr. Norman San Agustin, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and founder/ president of Morristown Surgical Associates at the Morrison Medical Center in New Jersey has dedicated his practice to breast cancer. He said that recent statistics show that the survival rate for very early detected breast cancer is 99 percent. But in the Philippines, the sad part is that 70 percent of those who die of the disease have not receive any kind of treatment.

My sister Rachelle is a breast cancer survivor. She lives in New Jersey and sought for Dr. Agustin’s help. Well, that was almost 20 years ago. During that time, I was thinking how one day I wish Dr. Agustin would return to the Philippines and be of help to his countrymen. Little did I know that in his heart he had the same plans.      

Dr. Agustin along with good friends of his has established the Asia Breast Center at Centuria Medical in Makati. Aside from its excellent service to the treatment of the disease, it also prides itself with charity work through an entrepreneurial model of “For-profit-charity.” The profits from the unit go to its network of partner hospitals for breast cancer screenings and treatments for indigent women.

By the way, in case you haven’t heard, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) “Package Z” includes four kinds of serious illnesses: (1) breast cancer (stages 0 to III-A), P100,000; (2) prostate cancer (low to intermediate risk), P100,000; (3) acute lymphocytic /lymphoblastic leukemia in children (standard risk), P500,000; and (4) end stage renal disease eligible for requiring kidney transplantation (low risk), P600,000.

Year 2018 is about to end. Let us welcome the new year with renewed strength and stronger faith and hope that our esteemed Senators and Congressmen for once think of the citizens of this country and keep their promises to serve with honesty and integrity. They should prioritize bills that are urgently needed by our countrymen like the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (under Senate Bill 1850). This Act aims to make cancer treatment and care more equitable and affordable for all cancers, all ages, all stages across all genders.

Happy New Year to all!

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