By Diego C. Cagahastian
This month is an auspicious time for the Department of Public Works and Highways. It is the DPWH’s 124th Founding Anniversary, making the Department as old as the First Philippine Republic headed by President Emilio Aguinaldo.
This is also the month when incumbent President, Rodrigo Duterte, will bid goodbye to the nation’s seat of power, Malacañang Palace, to return to private life. There will be a concomitant transition of leadership in the Department, from current Acting Secretary Roger “Oging” G. Mercado to incoming Secretary-designate Manuel “Manny” Bonoan.
It is therefore the right time to assess how the DPWH performed during the past year, nine months of which were under Secretary Mercado who took over from Secretary Mark Villar last October.
Roads, bridges, and flood control projects comprise the main bulk of the Department’s responsibilities. This is why the DPWH endeavors to maximize the use of its Congress- allocated budget to deliver at the earliest time the nation’s much-needed infrastructure.
The Duterte administration is working under the P5.024 trillion 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA) which was signed by President Duterte on December 30, 2021. The current budget is equivalent to 23.3 percent of the gross domestic product, and larger by 11.5 percent than the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
The DPWH’s budget of P786.6 billion is the second highest among the Departments, with the group of the Department of Education, CHED, TESDA and the state colleges and universities having a slightly higher allocation of P788.5 billion. The Department of Health and PhilHealth were third with P268.4 billion.
In his own Department, Mercado sees nothing wrong with productively spending the full amount allocated by the Congress to the DPWH. He said the Filipino people need these roads, bridges, flood control structures, evacuation centers, schools, military facilities, etc. that are itemized in the budget, and the earlier these are completed and put to good use by the people, the better for their lives and economic wellbeing.
Mercado believes that the key objectives of the 2022 GAA have been achieved by the administration, which are to build resilience amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, continue the legacy of infrastructure development and sustain the momentum towards recovery.
In 2021, the Department constructed, maintained, widened and upgraded or rehabilitated some 4,097 kilometers of road, constructed, strengthened and widened 510 bridges and 1,593 flood control structures.
During the recent Duterte Legacy Summit, the Infrastructure Development Cluster reported that from July 2016 up to May 2022, the Duterte Administration finished construction and other works on 40,080 kilometers of road.
The Cluster also constructed, widened, rehabilitated, replaced and retrofitted 6,854 bridges during the same period.
In the above projects, Mercado was ably assisted by Senior Undersecretary Rafael C. Yabut, Undersecretaries Emil K. Sadain, Roberto R. Bernardo, Eugenio R. Pipo Jr., Maximo L. Carvajal, Maria Catalina E. Cabral, Ardeliza R. Medenilla, Emerson L. Benitez and Constante A. Llanes Jr., along with Assistant Secretaries, Bureau Directors, Service Directors, Regional Directors, Project Directors and District Engineers.
This construction and infrastructure frenzy, many of them under the Build, Build, Build (BBB) Program, generated 9 million jobs for Filipinos all over the country, at a time when the economy was still reeling from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acting Secretary Mercado said, “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is the real Infrastructure Czar because he envisioned these projects. This is why we strived to make our roads efficient, effective and passable always.”
It is to Mercado’s credit that his successor, DPWH Secretary-designate Bonoan is also an experienced infrastructure guy. In fact he is behind the rise of several expressways and toll roads in Luzon built by the private sector, and this early has vowed to continue the existing projects under “Build, Build, Build” Program which are to be turned over to him by Secretary Mercado.
Duterte: Golden ageof infrastructure
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in power from 2016 to 2022, has without doubt delivered the nation to the front gate of the Golden Age of Infrastructure, thus putting the Philippines on strong economic foundation.
Duterte achieved this through his “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) Program — an ambitious and indispensable program financed by Public-Private Partnership (PPP), official development assistance from government-partners abroad, and local funds. The BBB Program kept the economy moving even in the darkest and coldest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, saved and created thousands of jobs and became the lifeline for survival of many Filipinos.
The building of giant projects in the areas of Air Transport, Energy, Railway Networks, Roads and Bridges, and Water Management also jumpstarts the nation towards the Golden Age of Infrastructure, the economic benefits of which are to be reaped by this generation of Filipinos and those yet to come.
75 Initial Projects
Seventy-five (75) flagship projects compose the initial list of big-ticket items in the Duterte administration’s BBB Program when it was unveiled in 2016. These are 35 land projects such as road links and bridges; 19 water projects which are fisheries facilities, ports, flood control, aqueducts and dams; 12 rail projects such as subways and railways; 3 energy projects involving hydropower facilities maintenance and 6 air projects which are airport expansions.
Some of the examples of these projects are the Clark International Airport Expansion Project, and the development projects in Laguindingan International Airport and Davao International Airport. For Energy, the BBB has Agus-Pulangi Hydroelectric Plant rehabilitation. Water projects include the Ambal-Simuay River and Rio Grande de Mindanao River Flood Control of the DPWH and the New Cebu International Container Port of the DOTr. This sector also includes the New Centennial Water Source – Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon and Rizal provinces which is expected to solve the water problem in Metro Manila in the years to come.
Examples of rail projects under the Build, Build, Build are the Subic-Clark Railway Project, PNR North 2, PNR South Commuter Line from Tutuban to Calamba, the Metro Manila Subway Project and the PNR South Long-haul, to include all the LRT and BRT lines in the National Capital Region.
Roads and bridges, the heart of the Build, Build, Build Program, account for most of the big-ticket projects of the DPWH. Some examples are several bridges in Manila, San Juan, Pasig and Marikina; the iconic and modern Binondo-Intramuros Bridge and Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge that are both funded by grants from China. Other items of interest is the Davao City Expressway Project, and the Panguil Bay Bridge.
As the Duterte administration moved forward, the initial BBB Program was expanded, with three revisions of the priority list in the first four years of the Duterte watch. By August, 2020, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board chaired by President Duterte had approved a longer list of flagship projects under BBB, amounting to P4.13 trillion, and with special emphasis on mass transportation.
Three-fourths of this budget went to items in Luzon, 53 projects worth P3.17 trillion. The National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila is the beneficiary of 25 of these big-ticket projects, including the first-ever subway in the Philippines costing P356.7 billion, mostly coming from the official development assistance (ODA) from Japan.
Duterte’s infrastructure legacy
By February 2022, all indicators were pointing to the completion of 18 out of 119 items in the BBB priority list at the end of the Duterte administration, as reported by Lois Calderon of CNN Philippines. The outgoing President has expressed hope that incoming President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will continue sustaining the BBB effort, which was weighed down by more than two years of Covid-19 pandemic that hindered physical construction of projects and took away from the BBB some funds and realigned for the pandemic response.
Calderon’s report last February follows:
“Public Works Undersecretary Emil Sadain, the chief implementer of the “Build BuildBuild” Program, said 18 out of the 119 projects on the list will be delivered by June. Collectively, the completed projects cost P82.039 billion – just a fraction of the P4.7-trillion ambitious infrastructure program.
“To his merit, the Duterte administration raised infrastructure spending to 5.3% of economic output or gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021, and to an expected 5.8% of GDP by end-2022 from just 3% when his term started, according to data from Sadain’s office.
“But the President’s 18 legacy projects neither counted big-ticket railways and subways nor the inter-island mega bridges mostly in the Visayas and Mindanao. One unfinished business is a 4-kilometer bridge that will connect the tropical Samal Island to Davao City, Duterte’s hometown.”
“As I write this article (June 15), the news media came out with reports that barely two weeks left in the Duterte presidency, the Philippines has secured a 2.34 RMB (about P17.39 billion) loan from China for the Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC).
“It was pointed out that this is the first time that the Philippines had a renminbi-denominated loan from China. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian had exchanged documents for the concessional loan worth around US$362 million funding the 3.86-kilometer two-way four-lane bridge.
Critics of the Duterte administration did not know that border and air travel restrictions during the height of the pandemic created problems for the mobility of foreign technical consultants and modern equipment needed for the construction of the projects. The pandemic slowed down both detailed engineering design activities and civil works.
Secretary Mercado stressed that machines from abroad were needed to ensure accurate measurements, “especially on the geotechnical analysis for bridges like the Bataan-Cavite, Davao-Samal Bridge and the Panguil Bay Bridge.”
“Of the 18 projects, 11 have already been launched and operational between 2018 and last year – including the Sangley Point International Airport and the airports in Clark and General Santos as well as New Clark City, and a road network that cuts travel time from Bonifacio Global City to Ortigas from 40 minutes to just 12,” the CNN report continued.
Comelec ban exemption
Delivered in the dying days of the Duterte administration were projects completed with the help of the Commission on Elections’ exemption from the ban on public works spending in an election period.
These are: the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge; Flood Risk Management projects for Cagayan River, Tagoloan River, and Imus River; Samar Pacific Coastal Road Project; LRT-2 East Extension; Motor Vehicle Recognition and Enhancement System; Unified Grand Central Station or North Triangle Common Station and the Malitubog-Maridagao Irrigation Project Stage 2.
The outgoing Duterte administration has expressed hope that the new President, Bongbong Marcos, will continue several flagship projects which will be left unfinished and are now in various stages of completion.
Some of these are the Samal Island-Davao City Bridge project or connector, the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge, Panguil Bay Bridge, the North South Commuter Railway System, and the subway and railway projects in the National Capital Region.