Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday considered as a “dismal failure” the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build program” since only nine out of the 75 flagship projects that were proposed at the start of the administration have started construction, a claim that Malacañang has denied.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Drilon’s claim was ‘baseless.’
“Senator Frank, look at the administration you previously belong. Six years, not a single infrastructure was done. It was far from many [of this administration],” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
“It’s baseless. This administration has done many,” he added.
Panelo went on to enumerate several “big-ticket projects” of the administration, which includes the LRT 1 Cavite Extension (Baclaran-Cavite), Metro Manila Subway, MRT Common Station, LRT-2 East Extension, PNR Clark, PNR Bicol, PNR Calamba, Subic-Clark Railway, Mindanao Railway, Bulacan Airport, Sangley Airport, NAIA Rehabilitation, and Clark Airport Expansion.
These projects, however, have yet to be finished.
The “Build, Build, Build” program is the government’s medium-term goal to increase infrastructure spending from 5.4 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017 to 7.3 percent by the end of 2022.
This was the highest budget allocation for infrastructure in Philippine history.
The NEDA has identified a total of 75 infrastructure flagship projects for development, approval, implementation, and review.
As of July 31, these flagship projects have an indicative total financing requirement of P2.40 trillion.
Of this amount, some P2.01 trillion will fund 52 of the projects through Official Development Assistance while 14 of the projects worth P238 billion will be implemented as locally-funded projects.
The remaining projects are to be implemented through Public-Private Partnerships.
Of the 75 flagship projects, 37 items worth P1.63 trillion have been approved by the Investment Coordination Committee and confirmed by the NEDA Board.
Under the proposed P4.1-trillion budget, P972.5 billion were allocated for infrastructure.
Drilon had said that the government must work overtime to finish these projects in the last two years of the administration.
“That is only 2 percent of the total,” he said.
“I don’t think any substantial progress insofar as that program is concerned will be achieved. I repeat, the execution is simply dismal,” said Drilon, who is also vice president of the Liberal Party.
Asked for the reason for the ‘failure,’ Drilon replied, “I do not know. We have to ask them.”
Told that the government targets to complete more than 40 projects, Drilon reiterated that only nine projects had been started.
“How can you say 40 projects will be completed in two years’ time?” he asked.
“Maybe they consider a feasibility study that a project can be completed, yes,” he said.
“But we talk about contribution to GDP of the BBB, you can only do that if there is actual disbursements. It does not achieve the plan for which it was formulated,” he added.
He said such failure can be reflective of the administration’s problem of underspending and the bureaucracy not being able to respond.
He also cited the problem of ill-advised projects or all problems that must be threshed out.
“I do not know if there is still time. Suddenly, after putting across 75 flagship projects at the start of the administration, suddenly they’ll review and remove some,” he said.
“If simply on information, which they could not provide us, you can imagine the capacity to actually implement the projects.”
He said that 75 projects would be part of the economic relationship between China and the Philippines.
“Apparently that aspect of relation between the two countries is a total failure,” he said.
The Senate leader also said the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways are the worst performers in terms of the ability to disburse.
The disbursement rate that he quoted, Drilon said, came from the COA.
“In other words, it was the result of the audit of the COA which said that the disbursement rates of these agencies are dismal.”
But when asked if he would approve the budget of these government agencies which appeared to have a problem in absorptive capacity, Drilon said he has yet to see their budget.
However, he said Senate Finance committee chairperson Senator Sonny Angara had said that some of the projects, for example in the DOTR, will be moved to other agencies.
Regarding the possible cause of underspending, Drilon said this can be due to the inability of the bureaucracy to respond either because of fear of being brought before the Ombudsman or there are some interests which would have other agenda than the good of the country. “We do not know,” Drilon said.
During the Senate deliberations on the proposed 2020 national budget, Drilon had asked for the status of the infrastructure projects of the administration.
Drilon added that the National Economic and Development Authority was only able to present the number of projects expected to be finished until 2022.
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