No quitting on Build Build Build
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2019 - 12:00am

The infrastructure deficit that besets the country today should not be written off as simple shortcomings of previous administrations. It is far bigger than that – is a full blown national emergency. It may not cause death and destruction, but its effect are equally damaging. It has choked economic activity and as a result, consigned the present generation of Filipinos to a life of economic challenges. It continues to rob us of economic opportunities. This, on top of making our cities more unlivable with persistent shortages of water, power, roads and ports.

During the campaign trail of 2016, then Mayor Duterte promised to spend P1.6 trillion to modernize the country’s transport and logistics systems. This promise, among others, was enough to get him elected with the highest margin. Adding to his magnetism was the perception of being a benevolent, purpose-driven leader, able to override the bureaucracy and whip uncooperative, disruptive and anti-development elements into submission.

A dossier of 75 projects was presented to the public and dubbed, Build Build Build (BBB). When completed, it promised to put the Philippines in step with Thailand in terms of infrastructure.

Fast forward to 2019 and President’s Duterte’s BBB program is in threat of failure. If Senator Frank Drilon is to be believed, only nine of 75 projects have broken ground so far. Malacañang claims, however, that there are actually 101 BBB projects, of which 54 are in the middle of implementation. However way you look at it, BBB is falling short by a mile.

Standing in the way of the expeditious implementation of infrastructure projects is the ill conceived, anti-progress, 1987 Constitution. Written as a knee-jerk reaction to Marcos’ abuses, the 1987 Constitution swung to the extreme, giving everyone and their grandmothers excessive democratic rights such that anyone can oppose vital infrastructure projects even in crisis situations. The Constitution was deliberately written to slow down the process of national projects.

Thus, it takes years for government to negotiate rights of way (ROWs) and secure consent from disruptive “stakeholders”. These stakeholders include the church, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, leftist groups and even extorting politicians.

During the first year of President Duterte’s term, Malacañang asked Congress for emergency powers to hasten the BBB program and to solve the traffic crisis. The bill was approved in the Lower House. However, Senator Grace Poe opposed it, saying it was not necessary.

With special powers denied, government had no recourse but to work within the parameters of the Constitution. This explains why only a handful of infrastructure projects have reached construction stage even after three years of work.

With yet another campaign promise in threat of being broken, the President appointed BCDA head, Vince Dizon as advisor to flagship programs. His role is to hasten the implementation of infrastructure projects. The reality, however, is that Mr. Dizon can only do so much within the parameters of the Constitution.

With two and half years left in President Duterte’s term, Rep. Joey Salceda filed House Bill No 5456 in another attempt to give the President emergency powers. If passed, this administration will still have two years to go full blast on BBB. The number of projects that can enter implementation stage can still double.

I must tip my hat to Rep. Salceda for his fighting spirit. I agree with him that a lot can still be done in two years. I was deeply disappointed, however, at the reaction of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. He said it is too late for emergency powers. His reaction was defeatist. It was as if he consigned BBB to failure.

Its been said that Bill No 5456 has a snowball’s chance in hell to be enacted into law given fears that it may lead to a Marcos-type of dictatorship.

Our legislators should not let paranoia stand in the way of progress.

Look, I was born in 1967 and this makes me both a Martial Law and an EDSA Revolution baby. My generation bore the brunt of the evils of both.

I still remember how it was to live under the extreme conditions of a police state under Marcos’ hand. I also recall the post-Marcos era where there was no money to spend on infrastructure. We had to grapple with one crisis after another, be it the power crisis, the water crisis, the telephone crisis, the job crisis (hence the OFW phenomenon) and now, the traffic crisis. We were the sick man of Asia who fell further behind our neighbors in terms of development, wealth generation and quality of life.

By my own experience, living from one crisis after another is worse than living under a police state. Democracy and freedom can only be appreciated if water flows from the taps, if there is light at night and mass transportation is available.

It is not to say that emergency powers will automatically lead to martial law… it will not – it cannot. This is because the Senate has oversight functions and can rescind the emergency powers at the slightest instance of abuse. All I am saying is that given the specter of living under martial law and living without appropriate infrastructure, the latter is worse.

What exactly are the emergency powers asked for? Among them is the power to take private property for public use with reasonable compensation; the power to take over private transportation facilities (bus franchises); the power to relocate communities to make way for public works projects; the power to overrule ordinances of LGUs and village associations if they hinder infrastructure projects.

As you can tell, nothing here indicates that our freedoms of speech, media, privacy and human dignity are in peril.

At this point, my concern is the attitude of President Duterte. The worse thing that could happen is for him to quit on BBB. Like Rep. Salceda, I would like him to continue fighting. To quit on BBB while there is still two years to go would be lame, not to mention a betrayal of his word. I would like to think the President will work to keep his promise up to the last day.

After 40 years of suffering and living under extreme austerity, we finally have the funds to build the infrastructure we need. We should all do what it takes to make it happen, including giving the President emergency powers. After all, infrastructure is the great enabler of economic development and what assures the Philippines a place in the world of tomorrow.

The President has the sway to persuade uncooperative, disruptive and anti-development legislators into approving emergency powers. I hope he uses it like a benevolent purpose-driven leader would.

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