The status of infrastructure projects and its political relevance

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Build Build Build has saved President Duterte in many ways. With infrastructure investments reaching US$15 billion per year, the ambitious program has kept the economy on a steady path of growth whilst being its biggest job generator. It is has also improved the quality of life of our people.

Consciously or unconsciously, the steady flow of infrastructure projects has given the majority the impression that this administration is generally doing well. It is the reasons why public outrage has been tempered over Malacañang’s many transgressions, not the least of which is its mystifying allegiance to China, its less-than-satisfactory management of the pandemic and its many cases of corruption.

Indeed, the President owes much to his infrastructure team, especially Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, for rolling-out infrastructure projects with relative expediency. Although admittedly, most of the projects have missed their self-imposed deadlines, no one can deny that projects are implemented much faster today than any other time since Marcos. The DOTr has accomplished more in the last five years than the DOTC has in the last twenty.

Just as it was the driver of economic activity in the last four years, Build Build Build will again play a key role in getting us out of this recession. Thus far, government has only committed to a stimulus package of US$23.87 billion, or 6.7% of GDP, through Bayanihan 1 and 2 and the measures of the BSP. This pales in comparison to our ASEAN neighbors whose stimulus packages are well over 20% of GDP. This means Build Build Build will have to fill the gap in stimulating the economy.

It has been more than a year since I last wrote about the state-of-completion of infrastructure projects. Much has happened since then. Hence, this is an update on the status of projects in the pipeline, particularly those in the aviation, railway and maritime sectors.

So far, 121 aviation-related projects (consisting of new airports, capacity expansion and night rating upgrades) have been completed since 2016. There are 114 more in the pipeline. Among the new airports inaugurated are those in San Vicente - Palawan, Puerto Princesa, Mactan and Panglao. These projects were initiated by past administrations but finished by the present.

Nearing completion at 99.1% accomplishment is the new passenger terminal at Clark. With an annual capacity of 8 million, the new terminal is set to be operational by January 2021. A new runway will also be built to accommodate the increase in passenger volume.

In Bicol, the international airport in Daraga is now 68% complete following an eleven year delay. It will finally become operational within 24 months.

As for NAIA, the Megawide-GMR Group was recently awarded the rights to renovate, modernize, expand and operate the country’s principal gateway following the abandonment of rights by the NAIA Consortium. It is just as well since Megawide-GMR is a tried and tested airport operator who has done a magnificent job in Mactan.

In the meantime, expansion of NAIA Terminal 2’s baggage hall and check-in area are ongoing and should be finished by year-end.

As for San Miguel’s mammoth US$15 billion airport in Bulacan, seaside and flood mitigation works on the 2,500 hectare complex have begun. Ground breaking for its four runways and terminal building will take place  before the end of the year, possibly next month, with partial operability targeted in 2025.

The rights to build the Sangley Point International Airport was awarded to MacroAsia and China Communication and Construction Company (CCCC). However, the project is marred with controversy what with the displacement of the Philippine Navy and the involvement of CCCC. It will be recalled that CCCC was one of the contractors of China’s illegal reclamation of the West Philippine Sea. Many doubt if this project will materialize.

In the Visayas and Mindanao, the modernization and expansion of the Kalibo, Bacolod-Silay, Iloilo and Davao airports are ongoing.

In the railway sector, the DOTr has embarked on an ambitious plan to expand the country’s railways system from 77 kilometers to 1,200 kilometers by 2025.

Among the projects under construction is MRT 7. The 22 kilometer line is now 59.14% complete and should be partially operational by 2022. The 3.8 kilometer LRT-2 extension is 92.14% complete and will be operational in April 2021. The 11.7 kilometer LRT 1 extension to Bacoor is 48.43% complete while the PNR-North line, connecting Tutuban to Malolos, is 40.11% finished. Both are slated for partial operability by late-2021.

As for the much awaited 36 Kilometer Metro Manila Subway, design and procurement works have put its accomplishment at 18.43%. Tunneling will begin in February 2021, following the arrival of the tunnel boring machine from Japan in January.

The rehabilitation of MRT-3, which includes the overhaul of 72 trains and replacement of tracks, is now 52.5% complete. MRT-3 will be in fighting form by the third quarter of 2021.

Projects that have yet to break ground include the PNR-South line, from Tutuban to Calamba; The Mindanao Railway Phase 1, from Tagum to Digos; The PNR-North line extension from Malolos to Clark (the construction of which was recently awarded to the Megawide group); the PNR South line extension from Calamba to Bicol; the Subic to Clark freight railway; the LRT 2 West Extension to Pier 4; and MRT 4 linking Manila to Rizal.

Other railway projects under evaluation include the Cebu Monorail System, the Makati-BGC Skytrain, LRT-6 running from Bacoor to Dasmarinas Cavite, MRT-10 from Commonwealth QC to NAIA, MRT-11 from Balintawak to San Jose Bulacan and the Makati Subway.

In the maritime sector, 369 commercial and tourism port projects have been completed with 108 more under construction.

Among the significant projects recently inaugurated is the country’s biggest maritime passenger port in Cagayan de Oro. Also finished were the ports in Ilocos Sur, Iloilo, Agusan del Norte, Davao del Sur, Coron, Marinduque and Misamis Occidental, among others.

After a hiatus in mid-March to mid-May, construction of infrastructure projects is back in full swing. As mentioned earlier, government is banking on infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. The more projects made to move forward from procurement to construction, the faster our recovery will be. The more projects finished and put into use, the more capacity the economy will have to grow.

If all things go as planned, infrastructure development will restore the economy back to its former vibrancy in two years and President Duterte will once again be excused for mishandling the economy during the pandemic. Its amazing how Build Build Build serves both a political and economic purpose.

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