By ANNA MAE YU LAMENTILLO
When I visited New York last week, I met with Ethel Capuno, a former colleague from United Nations Development Programme, who I had the pleasure of working with in the Haiyan Response. She is now based in headquarters as an Operations Specialist providing guidance to UN Capital Development Fund operations in Least Developed Countries in Asia and Africa.
We had a discussion as to whether the Philippines should still be referred to as a “Third World country” — a political term which was coined during the Cold War to refer to non-allied countries — nations who were neither with the United States nor with the Soviet Union.
She tells me — she has stopped thinking and referring to Philippines as a Third World country. To her — it is a developing country with a mid-level human development index. To me — it is a country about to realize its full potential.
In the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook — the Philippines ranked 39th out of 192 countries in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is expected to climb up by nine steps by 2023. The report predicts that the GDP of the country will increase to $523 billion (from $332 B) in five years, securing the 30th place in the global ranking. Together with India, Thailand, and Vietnam, Philippines is classified as one of the “emerging economies of Asia.”
In the same report, Philippines also ranked 29th out of 192 countries in terms of GDP when measured in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and is predicted to climb up to 25th by 2023.
Last Friday, Department of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez reported during the “Tatak ng Pagbabago: Tatak ng Pag-unlad” Pre-SONA forum that in the first quarter of this year, the Philippine economy grew by 6.8 percent. This is far superior to the recorded average GDP growth of the country of 4.4% in the period of 2000 to 2009. It is also higher than the recorded average GDP growth of 4.9% for emerging market and developing countries in 2017.
In the last two years since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed position, the Philippine government has allotted 5.4% of its GDP in infrastructure development, which is more than double the 2.5 percent average of the last six administrations in a span of five decades. Now, infrastructure spending under the “Build, Build, Build” is 42% higher compared to last year.
Under the leadership of Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, the existing road network was expanded and upgraded nationwide with at least 908 km of tourism roads, 510 kms of bypasses, diversion roads, and missing gaps, 1226 km of national roads, and 242 bridges constructed.
In the next four years, a total of 834.72 km of high-standard highways or expressways in Luzon will be constructed — double the length of the existing expressway network spanning 382 km. Once completed, travel time from Ilocos to Bicol will be reduced from 19 hours and 40 minutes to 8 hours and 15 minutes.
Infrastructure projects that will spur regional economic development and competitiveness, like the Bacolod Negros Occidental Economic Highway, the Davao City Coastal Road, the Davao City By-Pass Road, and the Mindanao Road Development Network, have also started construction.
The Inter-Island Linkage Project, which is a series of short and long-span bridges linking island provinces is also in its advanced stages. The preparation of the Feasibility Study and Detailed Design of six bridges, namely, the 22-km Bohol-Leyte Bridge, the 5.5-km Negros-Cebu Bridge, the 24.5-km Cebu-Bohol Bridge, the 18. 2-km Luzon (Sorsogon)-Samar Bridge, the 4.4-km Davao-Samal Bridge and the 28- km Bataan-Cavite Inter-Link Bridge will be undertaken under Asian Development Bank’s Infrastructure Preparation and Innovation Facility (IPIF).
Within the year, the construction of the Panguil Bay Bridge — a 3.77-km bridge connecting the city of Tangub in Misamis Occidental and the municipality of Tubod in Lanao del Norte — will start. This will reduce travel time between the two provinces from 2.5 hours to 10 minutes.
When completed, the Inter-Island Linkage network will connect Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao via land travel.
The Philippines is on its way to realizing its full potential and while there may be bumps in the road, “Per aspera ad astra (through hardship to the stars). As the old saying goes — the gem cannot be polished without trials.