By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, February 21 2019; Business World

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PHILIPPINE officials are headed to Osaka this week for meetings with Japanese counterparts on plans for the new Bangsamoro region as well as infrastructure projects funded by official development assistance (ODA).

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III will lead President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s economic team for the seventh meeting of the Philippines-Japan High-Level Joint Committee on Infrastructure Development and Economic Cooperation set today.

To be discussed are the progress of Japanese-funded infrastructure projects and updates on the new Bangsamoro region.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Department of Finance (DoF) said the Japanese officials are particularly interested in updates on ongoing peace efforts in Mindanao, especially after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that expands the area for Muslim autonomy as a way of promoting peace.

Formation of the new region is expected to unlock Mindanao’s potential as a growth hub, with massive funding to be provided by the national government projected to spur development and lift residents there from poverty.

Japan will also discuss findings of an observation mission during the Bangsamoro plebiscite earlier this month, as it looks to expand support for Mindanao.

The two nations expect to sign a new loan accord for the Road Network Development Project in Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao, following an exchange of notes on Feb. 10 during the visit of Japan Foreign Minister Tarō Kōno in Davao City.

On infrastructure, Japan has so far extended P189.92 billion (¥398.82 billion) for big-ticket projects since June 2016, making it the top ODA source under the Duterte administration.

Nine loan agreements have been signed so far, including for phase two of the New Bohol Airport Construction and Sustainable Environment Protection Project, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 Rehabilitation Project, the first tranche of the North-South Commuter Railway Extension Project and the first phase of the Metro Manila Subway Project.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said he expects the subway project to break ground in “the next 30 days,” adding that the government will get more details about the deal during Thursday’s meeting.

The rollout of the subway project has faced several delays, with officials pointing out scheduling issues among Japanese and Philippine officials. The Transportation department is eyeing a Feb. 27 target for groundbreaking.

Secretary Arthur P. Tugade inspected tunnel boring machines at a Japanese factory on Wednesday.

Messrs. Dominguez and Diokno as well as Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia will also stage a Philippine Economic Briefing for Japanese investors, with the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program in mind.

The Philippine government has signified interest to offer a fresh tranche of yen-denominated bonds this year, following a successful return to the foreign market in 2018. The government raised ¥154.2 billion from the sale of three-, five- and 10-year bonds shortly after the June economic briefing held in Tokyo.

DoF officials will visit the National Tax College Osaka Training Center to learn best practices that could be applied to the newly established Philippine Tax Academy. — Melissa Luz T. Lopez