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Govt not giving up on infra drive, will finish all projects

Finishing touches by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) are ongoing at the Bonifacio Global City to Ortigas Center Road Link Project, which is set to be partially open to motorists by June 2021. Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar said they aim to finish remaining civil work activities at the four-lane, two-way Sta. Monica-Lawton Bridge, a major component of the P1.793-billion BGC-Ortigas Road Link Project, one of several projects planned to ease congestion at Edsa by providing more alternate routes for motorists. Villar joined Undersecretary Emil K. Sadain and project managers in an inspection of the project on April 23, 2021.

DESPITE the need to address hunger and poverty caused by the lockdowns, the national government is not ready to surrender the Build, Build, Build program and insists that the ambitious infrastructure initiative will contribute to the Philippines’s recovery from the recession.

Despite temporary snags, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the infrastructure agencies led by Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar said the infrastructure projects will continue as planned. Neda said the government plans to spend P1.17 trillion for infrastructure this year.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade noted that the government is bent on completing a total of 163 projects worth P88.75 billion by the end of this year.

“We continue to catch up in 2021 with the highest ever infra spending of P1.17 trillion and we will continue to do so until we complete the process in the BBB program,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said on Monday. He reiterated that the recent dip in the country’s infrastructure spending was only temporary because of the mobility restrictions.

The country’s infrastructure spending declined to P825 billion in 2020 due to the lockdowns. This is the lowest since 2017 when the government spent around P691 billion.

Chua said the most important aspect about infrastructure is the sector’s ability to create jobs that will address hunger and poverty.This year, the infrastructure sector is expected to generate 1.7 million jobs and for 2022, government projects additional employment for 1.5 million Filipinos.

These represent the highest number of jobs created by the infrastructure sector in at least two decades, according to Chua. Since 2000, Neda data showed, infrastructure spending has been creating less than a million jobs annually.

“The full-time equivalent of jobs is expected to reach 1.7 million in 2021 because of the infrastructure program and this is much bigger than less than 1 million and as low as 100,000 10 or 20 years back,” Chua said.

Tugade said among those for completion this year are aviation projects worth P15.3 billion; maritime projects worth P7.7 billion; railway projects, P34.4 billion; and road projects, over P30 billion. These projects may either be fully or partially completed this year, he said.

The Transportation chief added that efforts are under way to increase the number of railway assets to date, including 1,209 kilometers in terms of route length; 168 stations; 1,381 trains; and 34 contracts. Tugade said another 20 railway contracts would be approved before the end of the Duterte administration.

“The investment poured by this administration in the Railways Sector under the Build, Build, Build Program is significantly larger than the total railway investments in the last 50 years combined,” Tugade said.

In terms of airports, Tugade said between July 2016 and March 2021, the administration completed 121 airport projects while the construction of 114 are ongoing. Another 75 projects are undergoing procurement.

For maritime, Tugade said 426 projects were completed, broken down into 215 commercial ports and 211 social tourism ports.

209% hike in projects

Meanwhile, in a presentation, Villar said based on project accomplishments, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has seen an increase of 209 percent or P1.716 billion in the 2011-2015 period versus the 2016-2020 period.

For projects accomplished in the 2016 to 2020 period, total infrastructure spending reached P2.537 trillion, higher than the P820.4 billion posted in the earlier period.

To date, Villar said DPWH has completed 10,376 flood mitigation structures; 89 projects under the Tatag Ng Imprastraktura Para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad (Tikas); and Basic Education Facilities Fund Program consisting of 144,925 classrooms and 2,036 school workshop buildings and other school facilities.

DPWH also completed 187 evacuation centers and 130 more are undergoing construction; 5,555 bridges that were constructed, widened, upgraded, rehabilitated and strengthened; and 26,494 kilometers of roads constructed, maintained, widened, upgraded, and rehabilitated.

The DPWH also completed some 2,192 kilometers of tourism roads under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP); 606 kilometers of roads leading to industries and trade corridors; 406 kilometers of access roads under the Kalsada Tungo sa Paliparan, Riles at Daungan (Katuparan) program; and 1,835 kilometers of farm to market roads and 90 kilometers of farm to mill roads.

Health capacity

A few weeks ago, UP School of Economics Professor Toby Melissa C. Monsod said government spending that is not directed toward boosting the country’s health capacity may do more harm than good.

Monsod said the government should concentrate on boosting the country’s health capacity. Based on the findings of her recent study, the lockdowns do not account for the contraction of economic growth last year, but the country’s lack of capacity to detect and respond to the pandemic.

Monsod said, however, that the 2021 budget does not reflect this priority since the budget of the Department of Health (DOH) was reduced, while the infrastructure budgets for DPWH and DOTr were increased.

Investing in health capacity should be a priority moving forward since, Monsod said, the lack of investments in this sector 20 years ago, could have saved the country billions.

Based on her research, Monsod said, if the government in the 2000s only invested in laboratories, economic growth would not have plunged to 9.6 percent last year.

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