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Build, Build, Build: Duterte’s big plan is working

Better late than never – now even the United States wants in on President Rodrigo Duterte’s “once in a hundred years” infrastructure program.

In a press conference in Makati City, US Ambassador Sung Kim told reporters that the States “understands and applauds the Philippine government’s focus on infrastructure development.” According to Kim, America offers its full support for the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program.

The program will cost a staggering $36 billion – a steep price for a developing nation like the Philippines. Another number to watch is 7.3% – that’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) spend by 2022, well above the international benchmark of 5%.

BBB will include the construction and improvement of everything from airports to roads, bridges and irrigation systems, as well as energy and flood control facilities. With a total of 75 projects, everything looks good on paper. But can the country once called ‘The Sick Man of Asia’ afford it?

Experts seem to think so. Department of Finance (DOF) Undersecretary Grace Karen Singson reminds pundits that BBB is not reliant on foreign investments alone. The once controversial Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act, popularly known as TRAIN Law, assures “steady revenue flow” on top of improved fiscal management.

And now that the US has pulled up a chair to the table, that’s more good news for the Philippines.

No Chinese debt trap

In 2018, the US passed the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development (BUILD) Act. The bipartisan measure looks to create “more flexibility to support investments in developing countries to drive economic growth, create stability, and improve livelihoods.”

What does this mean? It means that while most projects under BBB are currently dipping into the select pockets of China, Japan, and the Asian Development Bank, billions of Uncle Sam’s dollars could soon be finding their way to Philippine shores.

That’s soothing to the ears of many who have been ringing the bell on Chinese participation, whichever side of the political fence they belong to.

In a statement, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said that America “welcomes progress on legislation which could provide more opportunities for U.S. companies.”

“Especially in infrastructure, as part of the Build, Build, Build program,” he said.

“Build, Build, Build” Update: The National Economic and Development Authority has approved 37 of 75 projects worth ₱1.564 trillion. 14 are expected to be completed within President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

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