OF TREES AND FOREST
Aside from the lives lost and the economic growth impeded, the COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted the grand plans of the Duterte administration to usher in the “Golden Age” of Philippine infrastructure. “Build, Build, Build” was envisioned by President Rodrigo Duterte as a centerpiece program designed to address the huge infrastructure backlog in the country. It aimed to accelerate public infrastructure expenditure from an average of 2.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the previous administration to about 7.3 percent by 2022. This ambitious program was estimated to cost around P8 trillion to P9 trillion.
But the pandemic and the lockdown that came with it slowed the momentum of the program. As workers were advised to stay home, infrastructure projects took a backseat in favor of combatting the deadly virus. Despite this temporary setback, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as well as the government’s economic managers confidently proclaimed during the various pre-SONA (State of the Nation) forums that the BBB program will deliver on its commitments.
According to the DPWH, nearly 24,000 kilometers of roads have been constructed and improved all over the country four years after the massive infrastructure program of the government started. This was in addition to the 23,657 kilometers of roads that have been constructed, maintained, widened, upgraded, and rehabilitated and the 4,959 bridges were also constructed, widened, upgraded, rehabilitated, and strengthened as of May 2020.
With many of the workers returning to work due to relaxation of quarantine restrictions, many of the still pending projects will now proceed towards its completion. Government needs to continue the difficult balancing act of protecting the health of Filipinos against the coronavirus and reviving the economy.
Needless to say, infrastructure development—as it has in past major crises—will play a critical role in stimulating the economy back to its feet. We need to restart the infrastructure project in order to restore the livelihood of our people and rekindle economic activity.
Despite the delays, government has lined up a number of projects that would certainly resuscitate our ailing economy. Government reported that 1,066 kilometers of new high standard highways and expressways in Luzon, Cebu, and Davao with a total investment cost of P802 billion is set to be constructed in time for 2022 completion.
We should not wait for the pandemic to be over before restarting these projects. Once the vaccine has been discovered and the virus defeated then we will have these road networks ready for trade and tourism. Related to this, the DPWH noted that more than 1,700 kilometers of tourism roads or access roads are slated for completion. This will create more work not just in terms of construction but in helping our tourism industry recover from the devastating effects of the lockdown. In other words, we should “Build, Build, Build” while we “Test, Isolate and Trace.”
These road networks (including the construction of new bridges intended to augment the 30 existing ones) will also help us decongest Metro Manila. This is something that we should have done pre-pandemic but more so after COVID-19 exposed the danger and vulnerabilities of an overpopulated National Capital Region (NCR). There is a reason why COVID-19 infections are so high in NCR and in Metro Cebu — their dense populations and busy economic activities have helped the spread of the virus to many people.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) will also restart the construction of total of 3,859 kilometers of farm-to-market roads and 150 kilometers of farm-to-mill roads that will help our farmers and other traders in the provinces. A total of 1,540 km of agriculture roads had already been constructed and improved as of May 2020.
We should do our part as we battle the virus and fight to rebuild our future. Government needs to make sure that anti-COVID measures (wearing of mask, physical distancing, etc) are being followed and people should be disciplined and very careful when they go out to work and avoid non-essential travel. We can start rebuilding our livelihood even as we continue our fight against the virus.