By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat and Betheena Unite
The Duterte administration on Monday signaled a determined push to accelerate its massive infrastructure program to be accomplished, or at least partially, by 2022, to address the worsening mobility in Metro Manila and direct developments into the regions.
Top level officials of the Duterte administration vowed that the “best is yet to come” in the last three years of this administration.
This was stressed by both the infrastructure and economic Cabinet clustersof the Duterte government during the first of the three Pre-SONA series held at the Philippine International Convention Center on the run-up to the President’s 4th State of the Nation Address
(SONA) on the 22nd this month.
The two other Pre-SONAs will be held in Cebu and Davao.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, chair of the Cabinet infrastructure cluster, made a lengthy presentation of the government’s infrastructure projects all over the country that must, at least be partially opened or completed, within the Duterte administration.
Among these projects are the construction of the first Manila subway, which is under ODA financing from the Japanese official development assistance, expressways and skyways connecting north and South Luzon corridors, LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension
up to Bacoor, rehabilitation of the Philippine National Railways to connect Manila and Clark and up to Bicol.
So far, international airports have been opened including Panglao, Bohol and more improvements of airports to enable night flying capability.
Villar also discussed various infrastructure projects in the countryside, including the Mindanao Railway.
Phase 1 of the Clark International Airport terminal expansion is set to open in June 2020.
5-minute travel possible
Villar also said that the five-minute travel time from Cubao in Quezon City to Makati City is doable.
The controversial remark of President Duterte on the travel time between the two cities via the overly congested Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) is actually possible, Villar stressed.
He explained that once major road projects around Metro Manila are completed, a 15-minute travel time between Makati and Balintawak is possible, making it more possible for the five-minute travel time from Cubao to Makati.
“Yung 15 minutes na Makati to Balintawak (kaya) so mas malapit pa yung Cubao area (The 15-minute travel time from Makati to Balintawak is possible and Cubao is even nearer from Makati) so definitely doable,” Villar said during the Pre-SONA 2019 series.
Road projects such as the elevated expressways built around the metropolis, which also serve as bypass roads from EDSA, will greatly take away a large number of vehicles from the main highway. This way, Villar said, a five-minute travel time from Cubao to Makati City can be possible.
“Bypass (roads) like Harbor Link Expressway will take away cars from EDSA. Some projects indirectly affect EDSA. But overall we expect that the President’s statements are backed by very solid projects,” he said.
In order to achieve the five-minute travel time between Cubao and Makati City, Villar said around 250,000 to 300,000 vehicles must be taken out from EDSA every day.
“When you talk about Metro Manila, you don’t have to look further than EDSA. It is the symbol of congestion. The President said he promised he would finish traffic in EDSA. In order for us to do that, we computed, we needed to take out 250,000 to 300,000 vehicles a day,” Villar said.
By the end of the year, he added, “there will be big improvement” once a number of road segments are opened.
He noted that the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, once opened, will take away 100,000 cars from EDSA while another 100,000 cars will be taken away from EDSA through the NLEX Harborlink and the C-5 South Link Expressway.
A portion of the Skyway, Villar said, will be opened this year while a 2.2-kilometer segment of the C-5 South Link will open this month. Harbor Link, on the other hand, is already completed.
Other infrastructure projects aimed at decongesting EDSA will then take about 50,000 cars from the highway.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said they are playing catch up in the implementation of these projects following delays because of the late approval of the 2019 national budget due to bickering by both the Lower House and the Senate.
“The foundation for mobility has been laid out,” Tugade said citing projects for road networks, airports and ports that are being simultaneously implemented to provide efficient service.
He particularly cited the directive of President Duterte to open Sangley Airport by end this year for general aviation. “So, it shall be,” he pointed out.
Tugade noted that decongesting Metro Manila will be directed towards the improvement of services in the provinces.
The government is playing catch up in the implementation of these projects by undertaking 24×7 construction formula, not 8 to 10 hours a day work, he stressed.
This is made possible with all government agencies working and collaborating more closely to attain the mandate of the President, he added.
He said the Duterte administration has done these efforts in the last three years as he urged the participants of the PRE-SONA forum, which is composed of government agencies, private sector and business to, “Join us, watch us and continue supporting us because in the last three years the best is yet to come.”
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III explained the government has chosen to fund the “Build Build Build” projects with estimated investments of $160 billion largely by government money and official development assistance funds to accelerate implementation rather than wait for private-funded projects that normally take longer period of implementation.
From the economic cabinet cluster, Socio Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has reiterated his call for the liberalization of the Philippine economy saying the country is the most restrictive country in ASEAN.
“In Vietnam, 100 percent foreign is allowed but the Philippines is only partially open. So, the legislature should pass the Foreign Investments Act, Retail Trade Act and Public Services Act. With those 3 three, we could expect tripling or quadrupling what we have achieved,” he said.
From the private sector, Astro Del Castillo, Managing Director, First Grade Finance Inc., said the government administration should put a strong emphasis on agriculture to ensure food security by having a professional and competent agriculture secretary with the resignation of Secretary Manuel Piñol.
Another major issue, he said, the government has to act is the passage as soon as possible is the TRABAHO Bill to end the prevailing uncertainty among businessmen and investors in the country.
Del Castillo emphasized that the second package of the government’s comprehensive tax reform program, which has been made look bad by politicians who do not understand that “tax is not bad.”