DOTR: Dream of 'Infra Golden Age' goes on

Published December 30, 2021, 3:18 PM

by Emmie V. Abadilla


For the first time in its history, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) took an unprecedented number of projects to bring on the Golden Age of Infrastructure in the Philippines, spending P9 trillion from 2017 to 2022 under President Rodrigo Duterte’s flagship “Build Build Build” program.

But now, near the end of the chief executive’s term, “We are far from over,” acknowledged DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade.

The transformation of the country’s transport sector is “a continuing thing”, he underscored.

Last month, legislators approved a P120 billion budget for DOTr in 2022, lower than what the agency asked for, yet it remains committed to “fulfill its mandate in the remaining term of office with whatever approved budget will be made available,” DOTr Undersecretary for Finance Giovanni Lopez confirmed.

Notably, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) cited DOTr as one of five agencies which used its budget quickly and efficiently in the first nine months of 2021, despite setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, before the global health crisis, the DOTr’s disbursement rose to 74.5 percent but dropped to 64.57 percent last year, with the lockdowns and quarantines halting progress on most projects.

However, as of September 2021, the agency’s disbursement rate was already at 63.15 percent.

DOTr used up its entire P45.88-billion allocation for the period.

In the wake of an economic shock, infrastructure investment stimulates growth, Tugade pointed out.

Hence, the agency uses stimulus investment for sustainable recovery.

Overall, the DOTr completed over 230 airport projects since 2016, some of which have been inaugurated in the last couple of months, such as the Bicol International Airport, General Santos International Airport and Zamboanga International Airport.

Some airports, such as those in Tuguegarao, San Vicente, Cotabato, Maasin, Vigan and Catbalogan, are still scheduled to be completed and inaugurated within the first semester of 2022.

The DOTr also put the privatization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on hold this year, choosing to handle its development via the Manila International Airport Authority instead.

In the maritime sector, the DOTr and the Philippine Ports Authority ( PPA) completed 484 seaport projects nationwide, with 100 more projects ongoing.

In the rail sector, the DOTr sought to increase the route length of operational lines, fleet and train stations numbers to boost the country’s rail transport capacity.

From just four operating lines with 77 kilometers of total route length in 2016, DOTr targets to have 1,209 kilometers of railways in 2022.

The target includes railways that are actually completed, under construction, plus awarded projects.

In addition, DOTr targets to operate 1,386 train cars in 2022, from 224 in 2016. It also plans to have 179 total stations, from 61.

Before the Duterte administration ends, DOTr intends to start building other big ticket rail projects, such as the LRT-2 West Extension, the MRT-4, the PNR Calamba, PNR Bicol, Subic-Clark railway, and the Mindanao railway, Tugade pledged.

“We have the single largest railway pipeline in history, more than $30 billion, but we need four to five times more of that just to catch up with the amount of rail transport capacity we need for the country,” Transportation Undersecretary for railways Timothy John Batan warned.

Railways, which has the highest capacity and is considered the most efficient form of land transport, can solve the country’s transport problem.

And the DOTr is not slowing down even as the Duterte administration is coming to a close.

“I would like to maximize the improvement that we can do in the transportation landscape,” Tugade stressed.

“The pace will continue to be faster and stronger. There is still much more to do with only little time left,” he concluded.