Without a doubt, President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program brought genuine growth to the country. It has arguably saved the Philippines from guaranteed economic collapse in the face of a pandemic. But with how BBB has performed, in terms of total completed projects, it begs a question: Should we consider building northward instead of south?
BBB grew from the initial promise of 75 projects to a vast program of 119 projects. However, only a handful of them have been finished as the administration finds itself in its final year. Concerned agencies are now rushing projects to completion, with 14 expected to be completed this year and 17 more by 2022. It is therefore contingent on the next administration to cement the BBB legacy by making the right moves – primarily, where to continue building.
Island links: Too challenging to continue?
Under the BBB program, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recognized 75 high-priority projects in 2017. When 2021 came, only half of those projects had pulled through.
In late 2019, then-NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia warned that a number of high-profile bridge projects would be abandoned. By 2020, it was official: a dozen bridge projects, including those connecting Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, had been shelved. Some were “hard to pursue,” Pernia remarked, and these, of course, had financial consequences.
In place of 30 projects scrapped, the flagship infrastructure initiative announced 71 “new” projects. During the final year of the program, NEDA removed three more projects but added another 14.
So much for the dream of connecting the Visayas. Too much, too soon? Perhaps. The pandemic has done the region no favors. But all is not lost for the Golden Age of Infrastructure. Building northward could be an option that could still greatly help the national economy.
Daring? Surely. But in the face of economic urgency, climate change, and other factors, it’s a bold idea worth looking into.
Why not try to build northward?
With all of the suspended high-profile bridge projects from the south, one can only wonder about the shift the next President could take. Why not double up on building more roads and bridges for the northern folks, especially the poorer parts of Northern Luzon? From the fields of Central Luzon to the Cordillera mountains – building northward could make more sense for the next administration if it chooses to adopt a trickle-down economics approach. Sounds like a Goliath in terms of fiscal management? Definitely. But we should put everything on the table in times like this.
The opportunities are endless – agriculture, alternative energy sources (solar farms), economic hubs, etc. From nearby Bulacan’s promises being fulfilled, to building on the Ilocos region’s decades-old foundation of roadways, the North may yield impressive short and medium-term returns the economy needs as we bounce back from the pandemic. Now is also the time to be open-minded about bringing resilient development to some of our poorest provinces, namely Apayao and Aurora. These also happen to be in the frontlines of the war against climate change. Are there opportunities there we haven’t been paying enough attention to?
To propel impoverished places towards greater economic status, they must first have the infrastructure. This has always been the crux of BBB. Better roads and bridges will attract both local and foreign investments, and a new admin is again ripe for new deals.
The pandemic changed the game. Plans have evolved. And the times call for swift action. Perhaps building northward is what we need next.