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Build, Build, Build must remain as a long-term economic policy

At one point in its history, the Philippines was the second richest country in Asia. We were only a little behind Japan and way ahead of China.

I do not have a recollection of such time as it was long before I was born, but I hope to see in my lifetime the Philippines reclaim or even surpass that position. Sure, it’s an ambitious dream, but isn’t it about time we dream big again for our country?

In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte launched the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, a medium-term development strategy led by former Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar. It mobilized the largest workforce in Philippine history to implement an infrastructure plan consistent with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.

It’s the Philippine government’s most ambitious infrastructure program, with a target spending of Php8-9 trillion for infrastructure development for the period of 2017-2022.

The cost of inaction

During that time, when we were 2nd richest in Asia, our rail transportation spanned 1,100 kilometers. In 2016, we only had about 77 kilometers. This decline of our transportation network was mainly attributed to the government’s chronic underspending on infrastructure, which only averaged 2.4% of our country’s GDP for the past half century. This is minimal compared to the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 5, which recorded at least five percent.

In 2017, the first full year of the Duterte Administration, the government budgeted around 5.4% of GDP for infrastructure development.

Many would ask, why do we have to spend so much on infrastructure?

Because the cost of indifference to our infrastructure decline is not minimal.

In 2012, the Philippines lost Php2.4 billion a day due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila alone. According to a study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this has gone up to Php3.5 billion after six years.

Responding to Filipinos’ needs

In response to this, and as part of ‘Build Build Build’, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH),  under the leadership of Secretary Mark Villar, identified and started major road networks that Filipinos need in order to achieve seamless travel and connectivity.

The EDSA Decongestion Program is composed of 25 projects, consisting of 14 roads/expressways spanning 121 kilometers and 11 bridges spanning 9.157 kilometers. This includes the Skyway Stage 3, the NLEX Harbor Link, the C5 Southlink, the Kalayaan Bridge, and the Radial Road 10, among others.

But ‘Build, Build, Build’ is not for Metro Manila alone. Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccsksargen, and Caraga saw the realization of the Mindanao Road Development Network, a 2,567-kilometer intermodal logistics network, which aims to address constraints caused by high cost of transport and inadequate logistics infrastructure. We also have the Boracay Circumferential Road, the Aganan Bridge in Iloilo, the Camalig Bypass in Albay, the Tarlac Pangasinan La Union Expressway, the Lingayen Bypass in Pangasinan, and the Central Luzon Link Expressway, to name a few.

Also part of the ‘Build, Build, Build’ is President Duterte’s Mega Bridge Project, a series of short and long-span bridges linking island provinces to eventually connect Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao via land travel. Part of this is the Panguil Bay Bridge that is already undergoing construction, the Samal Island-Davao City (SIDC) Connector bridge, the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridge, and the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge, among others.

In the past five years, we were able to complete 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 11,340 evacuation centers, 150,149 classrooms, 214 airport projects, and 451 seaport projects.

Who takes the credit for all of these? The 6.5 million Filipinos who worked and are still working to make the vision a reality. These hardworking Filipinos willingly took part on the shared vision of creating a more comfortable life for all. If not for them, these big ticket projects would remain in the pipeline.

They built the Pigalo Bridge so that farmers in Isabela, who want to take their agricultural products to Manila or Tuguegarao, no longer need to take the 76-kilometer detour via the Alicia-Angadanan-San Guillermo-Naguilian Road, because they can now reach the same market within a ten-minute time frame.

They completed the Marawi Transcentral Road so that residents of war-torn Marawi would have access to basic services and goods, thus, paving the way for peace.

They helped build the Cebu-Cordova Link Bridge, the Philippines’ longest bridgeway, showing Filipinos that the dream of connecting Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao is within our reach with the right vision and action plan.

They constructed the roads and bridges that would decongest EDSA, allowing Filipinos to spend less time on the road, and more time with their families.

Build, Build, Build must continue

A few years before I joined government, I was a humanitarian worker and I traveled to the different regions of the country to help provide relief for families and communities. The roads were literally difficult then, and it was during that time that I realized that if we were to achieve real and inclusive economic growth, a good infrastructure network was necessary.

Who would have thought that I would actually be part of President Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ team? It was truly an enriching experience. The task was really daunting, but it was not impossible. There were a lot of naysayers, and up to now there are a lot of critics despite the accomplishments.

It has not been easy but I will always look at it fondly, because it is immensely satisfying to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It is actually very fulfilling to see computer-generated images, which were once used to present a vision, turning into actual roads, bridges, airports, and flood control projects that benefit the people.

I remember Secretary Mark’s words during our first day of office. He said, to make the Philippines a better place, we need roads to the most rural areas so that children can go to school without risking their lives, bridges to connect farmers and fishermen to their markets, and infrastructure that would open up opportunities in the countryside and allow Filipinos to dream and aspire for a better future. That is exactly what Secretary Mark did.

We are already on the right track. The Philippines can be a trillion-dollar economy. President Rodrigo Duterte has laid the grounds to make this possible. It will be up to us to make it happen, but Build, Build, Build must continue to be part of the strategy.

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