By Bernadette D. Nicolas, February 21 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

THE country’s economic managers will formally request the Commission on Elections to exempt at least 145 priority programs and projects from the election spending ban to avoid delays in the government’s massive infrastructure program.

In an initial version of the letter addressed to Comelec Chairman Sheriff M. Abas dated February 18, the economic managers said the request is in line with the government’s commitment to increase public spending on infrastructure from 4.4 percent of GDP in 2017 to at least 6.9 percent by 2022.

“The exemption will facilitate implementation and ensure that there are no delays and disruption of these national priority projects,” read the letter, a copy of which was distributed to the media.

The letter was signed by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno.

Of the 145 programs and projects, Diokno said in a message to reporters that 59 are being implemented by national government agencies, 82 by government corporations, three by constitutional fiscal autonomy group and one by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Aside from these, the list also included programs and projects of Department of Public Works and Highways with FY 2019 investment targets included in the Updated 2017-2022 Public Investment Program as input to the 2019 budget preparation.

Although the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) also states that the public-works ban during elections does not apply to ongoing public works projects before the campaign period or similar projects under foreign agreements, the economic managers still provided the Commission with a list of ongoing foreign-assisted programs and projects. This is because the OEC states that “it shall be the duty of the government officials or agencies concerned to report to the Commission the list of such projects being undertaken by them.”

“[We] also provided the Comelec with a list of 384 ongoing foreign-assisted programs and projects being implemented by national government agencies that are deemed exempted from the election ban,” Diokno said in a message to reporters.

No estimate was yet provided on the total cost for these projects that will likely be exempted by the Comelec from the election spending ban.

The ban is set to take effect from March 29 to May 12.

P500-billion projects

Diokno earlier estimated that at least half a trillion pesos of infrastructure projects are targeted to be started by the first quarter.

The country is also still operating under a reenacted budget, at least for the first quarter of the year, since Congress has yet to submit to Malacañang the P3.757-trillion proposed national budget by March 1.

This comes as the President expressed frustration last week that the lack of skilled workers is hampering the country’s “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program.

Despite this, Diokno said in Tuesday’s briefing that the projects under the infrastructure program still show what strong efficient leadership and political will can do.

“And with the facts and numbers on the table, it is clear as day that the Duterte administration delivered,” he said.

However, he also appealed for everyone’s patience as the government is working to address the infrastructure gap.

“We recognize the urgency of the situation and we are mobilizing all resources to reverse this pitiful state of affairs,” Diokno said. “We just have to be patient because closing the infrastructure gap will take years. After all, we’re trying to fix three decades of neglect in
public infrastructure.”

Through its BBB program, the Duterte administration plans to usher in the “the golden age of infrastructure,” as it aims to spend up to P9 trillion to roll out 75 flagship infrastructure projects.