Drilon should do a salceda

Published November 16, 2019, 12:02 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



RJ Nieto

Expressing his displeasure over the revision of the list of priority projects under the Duterte Administration’s “Build! Build! Build!” program, Senate Majority Leader Franklin Drilon said the list might not been “well-thought-of so that we revise them in the middle of the stream.”

A day earlier, he described the program as a “dismal failure,” saying “we can have a thousand projects, that’s all theoretical… If it is actual construction with actual disbursements, that would propel our economy.”

I find this senator’s comments confusing on several grounds.

Drilon is part of the Liberal Party that lorded over Malacañang through Duterte’s predecessor, then-President Noynoy Aquino… and we are all witnesses to the previous administration’s lackadaisical approach towards the country’s massive infrastructure backlog.

Aside from failing to accomplish any significant infrastructure project, the Aquino administration also canceled legitimate infra contracts.

For example, Aquino in 2011 scrapped the legitimate P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Dredging Project that was intended to reduce flooding in the Metro. As a result, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ordered the Philippine Government to pay the Belgian contractor at least P800 million in fines.

To make matters worse, the same administration neglected (or even sabotaged) existing and erstwhile fully operational infrastructure.

When MRT-3’s maintenance contract with Sumitomo expired in the early 2010s, the Aquino Administration replaced the Japanese railway specialist with a consortium of amateurs that had no experience in rail maintenance.

Remember when an MRT train overshot the EDSA-Taft Station and spilled onto Taft Avenue? That happened well after Sumitomo left, and the Aquino-anointed amateurs took over.

And don’t even get me started on those PNR toilets that had no toilet cubicle dividers.

In short, I can’t understand how Senator Drilon’s standards for the Executive Department’s performance had suddenly gotten so high when he was totally fine with previous administration’s excruciating incompetence.

But then, even I acknowledge the fact that the Duterte administration’s “Build! Build! Build!” is one ambitious endeavor, and with the acknowledgment of its ambitiousness comes the realistic expectation that some of the plans will materialize and others won’t.

Drilon understands the serious and frequently debilitating regulatory challenges facing any infrastructure program, best evidenced by the 2016 Transportation Crisis Bill which he himself authored. His Senate Bill No. 11, had it been enacted into law, would have authorized the President to use simpler and faster methods of procurement for infrastructure and transportation projects. Drilon must be aware that this bill got stuck in Senator Grace Poe’s Senate Public Services Committee, making the already gargantuan task of fixing urban traffic even more difficult.

Tolentino refiled the bill in 2019, and just like its predecessor, it got stuck with Senator Poe.

As a reasonable man on the street, all I expected (and earnestly hope for) is for the Duterte administration to (1) complete a significant number of projects listed in “Build! Build! Build,” and (2) find alternative infra projects when the original plan won’t for whatever reason.

And that’s precisely what the Duterte administration has been doing all along, and that is also why it had to revise the “Build! Build! Build!” List to reflect this reality.

Even if the Duterte administrations manages to complete just one major infrastructure project, that would be one more than what Drilon and his allies accomplished during their turn.

Despite this, I still admit that the “Build! Build! Build!” program is far from perfect, as some government officials with vested interests seem to do all they can to protect their allies’ business interests, to the detriment of the national interest.

However, the fact remains that the projects are largely progressing — a total departure from the Aquino administration’s predilection for analysis paralysis.

Fortunately, it seems that this administration heeds criticisms from the general public. For example, the New Manila International Airport Project in Bulacan, despite years of unnecessary delays and “clarifications,” may finally break ground soon.

Unlike the previous administration, this Davaoeño-led Malacañang dared to dream big. And even if rival politicians are pulling it down by neglecting to provide legislative support, today’s Malacañang is doing its darned best to turn these dreams to reality.

If Drilon thinks the administration is having a hard time, then he should emulate Rep. Joey Salceda, who recently filed a House bill that will allow the President to hasten Build! Build! Build!

Salceda is doing it right. Drilon, not so much.

Merely criticizing the administration without doing one’s own part is the kind of old politics that the Philippines rejected in May, 2016, the same kind of politics that Drilon and the rest of the Liberal Party still espouse today.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

And I think that line applies to Senator Franklin Drilon and the rest of his comrades.
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