By Lorenz S. Marasigan, January 2 2019; Business Mirror


Image Credit to Business Mirror

After all the merry-making, laughter, and gifts, comes the horrendous traffic—a chronic disease, which many a government has tried, but failed, to cure.

Despite this stark reality—something that experts have previously said would be the norm in the coming years, if drastic interventions would not be put in place—signs of improvement have so far sprouted, thanks to a number of policy reforms.

It will, however, take a few more years before the government could finally unclog the heavily congested arteries of the Philippines.

But roads are not the only ones clogged; airports, rail roads  and even seaports are also congested.

The lack of infrastructure has always been the weak point of the country, owing to years of underspending, poor planning, and supposed corruption-ridden under the table, lopsided deals.

In the October 2018 World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report, the Philippine infrastructure sector was ranked 94th among 140 countries surveyed by the WEF.

Removing the Philippines from the “worst performer’s” list in terms of infrastructure is a job that two line agencies are currently working on. The road network of the Philippines is being developed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). While aviation, maritime, railways, and utility vehicles are being handled by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

They are to execute projects through the formulation of road maps and “evidence-based studies” that will promote the use of mass transit systems all while ensuring the development of roads and highways especially in dense urban areas.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said his agency is ramping up projects under the “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program of the Duterte administration to meet the strong demand in the air, water and land transport subsectors.

Robust air linkages

Under the midterm development plan, the transportation department is tasked to “exhaust all possible means to improve the operational efficiency of airports and to address constraints to optimal capacity utilization.”

For 2018, the department was able to deliver three big-ticket airport infrastructure projects: the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2, the New Bohol Panglao International Airport and the expanded Puerto Princesa International Airport.

It also started building the second terminal in Clark International Airport and the construction of the 11-year delayed Bicol International Airport.

“Domestic airports in the provinces are also being given a face lift. At least four have been improved [San Vicente, Tacloban, Virac and Maasin]. Four more are undergoing rehabilitation, and five domestic airports are also programmed for improvements,” Tugade added.

Infrastructure development is also under way for four airports—Laoag, Vigan, Cotabato and Tawi-Tawi—following the signing of the memorandum of agreement with the Department of National Defense.

Better railways

Tugade added that his office was able to make strides in the development of railway infrastructure and policies that are in line with the midterm development plan, which gives prime importance to the development of train systems to move people and cargo more efficiently.

The government was able to start the establishment of the railway institute, a school that will educate future train operators, drivers and employees on the best practices in the global railroad sector.

It has also signed an P18-billion loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) for the rehabilitation of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3, the most congested train line in the Philippines.

Tugade added that his office has also started initiatives for the implementation of the Mindanao Railway, the PNR Bicol, and the PNR Calamba, all of which will be opened by 2022.

Preconstruction activities for the extension of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 to Cavite also started in 2018.

Aggressive in 2019

Tugade said five big-ticket projects will start this year—the PNR Bicol, LRT Line 1 Extension, Subic-Clark Cargo Railway, MRT Rehabilitation Project and the Mindanao Railway Project.

The government has also set its sights on the completion of the following projects: the Road Transport Information Technology Infrastructure Phase I; the construction of Sheltered Port in Barangay Pag-asa, Kalayaan; the Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project Phase I (MSCIP I) Project; the Davao Sasa Port Phase I Project; the Commercial, Social and Tourism Ports Project; the Isabela Port (Basilan) Project; and Malalag Port Project.

For his part, Villar said his agency will continue to implement the Luzon Spine Expressway Network Program. Next year will see the completion of the North Luzon-South Luzon Expressways (Nlex-Slex) Connector Road, and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway Section 3.

It will also implement the Inter-island Linkage Program, which is a series of short and long-span bridges linking island provinces to eventually connect Mindanao and Visayas to Luzon via land travel.