Big projects

January 24, 2018


Philippine Star | January 24, 2018


Everyone seems to be banking on a near flawless roll-out of both the big infrastructure projects and the tax reform program for the economy’s continued good health this year. That is a big bet on the ability of the bureaucracy to deliver as planned. That makes me nervous.

Moody’s Analytics, in its Jan. 18 market outlook, based its bullish sentiment on our strong domestic demand and favorable demographics. Moody’s said “Domestic demand likely remained the main driver of growth…”

Other than consumer demand, Moody’s also cites the other growth driver of the Philippine economy in 2018, government’s ability to reform the tax system and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

One major stock brokerage firm feels the same way and included an enumeration of the big projects in their daily advice to clients last week:

Infrastructure: 15 infra projects eyed for 2018 launching.

Government is looking at increased infrastructure activities this year, with 15 big-tickets items already in pre-construction stage. These projects are: 

1) The P355.6 billion Mega-Manila Subway project, 2) The P285 billion North-South Commuter Railway, 3) The P211 billion Malolos-Clark Railway, 4) The P134 billion Philippine National Railway South Commuter Line, 5) P51.7 billion Visayas-Mindanao grid interconnection.

 6) P37.8 billion Metro Manila Bus Rapid Transit EDSA line, 7) The P35.3 billion Mindanao Railway Phase 1, 8) The P25 billion Metro Manila Flood Management project, 9) The P12 billion C5 South Link Expressway, 10) The P11.4 billion construction of 30 bridges across the archipelago;

 11) The P5.47 billion Metro Manila Bus Rapid Transit España-Quezon Avenue Line, 12) The P4.36 billion Arterial Road Bypass, 13) The P4.61 billion Binondo-Intramuros Bridge, 14) The P1.38 billion Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge, 15) The P1.16-billion partial rehabilitation of Marawi City.

 Of these 15 projects, eight will be funded by official development (ODA), three from multilateral lenders, three from the government budget and one from public-private partnership.

 I wrote last Monday that some big projects are really getting off the ground. I particularly admire how BCDA’s Vince Dizon is keeping his promise to meet targets from bidding to groundbreaking. Mind you, Dizon’s groundbreaking of the new Clark airport is not just ceremonial, like most other projects, but actual start of construction.

There are other projects not on this list, but are also rather urgent. Conspicuously absent is MRT3. DOTr is quiet other than to tell us there are on-going negotiations with Japan to finance a feasibility study on how to rehabilitate the system. DOTr is also suggesting Japan will provide ODA financing to rehabilitate the system.

I am not sure Japan will spend the money of their taxpayers on what is still legally a privately owned system. Maybe Japan will undertake the feasibility study and that’s a good first step. But even that means we will wait for another year or more to have that completed. In the meantime, commuters must suffer the never ending breakdowns.

But the patience of the riding public is wearing thin. They may not be able to wait seven more years for the original BLT contract to expire to see some drastic improvements in the MRT-3 service. Moving with the MRT-3 requires using the so-called political will the Duterte administration claims it has. But if they have it, why haven’t they used it?

While those 15 projects have been mentioned in press statements and speeches countless times, I am not sure there are approved feasibility studies for all. The only projects in the list that are simple enough to possibly see the light of day within the next two years are the bridges across the Pasig River. But given Sec. Villar’s track record so far, I am not that sure…

The list talks of a BRT on EDSA, but the project has not been seriously discussed publicly. I hope government planners will tell us how this BRT will work together with the MRT 3. Dangling the EDSA BRT project may just be their way of trying to bring down public anger on the lack of a decent public transport system on EDSA.

I see the projects in the wish list as long term in nature. Under the best circumstances, completion will most likely happen beyond the Duterte term, assuming no term extension.

But they should prioritize the PNR projects, both commuter and long haul because the need is urgent. Beyond some trains coming from Indonesia in two years, we haven’t heard much about what they plan for PNR and target date for breaking ground.

Also on the list is a flood management project for Metro Manila. But we have always had some kind of flood control project for years… and still floods in the metro area have been troublesome. This is a DPWH project so it is best to lower expectations.

Strangely, economic analysts exude a lot of optimism about our economy this year and the years to come. They are taking government’s word that Build Build Build will deliver quickly. So much expectations have been built up by government propaganda that I am worried the inevitable big delays will cause such a huge disappointment.

Cabinet members talking about Build Build Build have yet to tell us how they plan to roll everything out. They say money is not a problem. But have they fixed the bureaucracy’s weak capability to absorb those big budgets?

Have we trained enough workers to undertake various facets of construction? Private construction companies are worried about manpower availability. We may need the next two years to train workers and Tesda alone can’t do it.

Big projects. Big hopes. Hopefully we won’t have a big letdown.

First computer

The oldest computer can be traced back to Adam and Eve.

Surprise, surprise.

It was an Apple.

But with extremely limited memory.

Just one byte.

Then everything crashed. . .