PHL building fast for future, critics talking fast

The achievements of the Duterte administration under the Build, Build, Build program can best be appreciated given the environment inherited by the Duterte team — a laggard in physical infrastructure.  In a 2016 report of 9 of 10 member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ranking in transport, port and airport infrastructure, the Philippines consistently ranked 7th to 9th (only ahead of Cambodia and Laos).  This is highlighted in 2013 when the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 (NAIA 1) had the unenviable position of being voted as the world’s worst airport for three consecutive years — the distinction was only removed in 2017. We are racing against ourselves, and against our neighbors as competitors for the world markets.

Some of the accomplishments in three years of the Duterte administration, as reported by the Department of Transportation: the backlog in driver’s licenses and the problems with vehicle plate distribution have been cleared up; the laglag-bala (bullet-planting) in the airport and daily Metro Rail Transit 3 disruptions have miraculously disappeared; construction of new airport and transportation facilities are now on the way; smoke belching and dilapidated public utility vehicles have been taken off the road. In 2018, NAIA 1 was ranked the 10th most-improved airport in the world.  (Under the previous administration after three years, no improvement, even cosmetic, was implemented for NAIA 1. When the report came out, then Aquino 3rd-government spokesman Lacierda brushed it aside even saying it was not the first time NAIA 1 got the distinction.)

In 2018, five of the biggest transportation projects under the Build, Build, Build program were completed.  In January, the Communications, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management system was inaugurated. In June, the world-class Terminal 2 of the Mactan Cebu International Airport was opened — it has been called “the most beautiful airport in the country today.”  Compare this with the usual 10 to 20 years it used to take to even start a major project in the past administrations, which some media and “think-tanks” do not bring up as comparison.

Also in 2018, Bohol got its first international airport, the first eco-gateway in the country.  The country’s first barge terminal, the Cavite Gateway Terminal in Cavite, was inaugurated, and the first “landport,” the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange, opened its doors to the public. Thousands of kilometers of new roads have been delivered in record time. Long sought-after infrastructures are already helping alleviate the experiences of millions of commuters and generating regional development.

These achievements (and many others) are hardly reported in the international media, and clearly show the inaccuracies of the critics’ and media’s that continue reporting that no major infrastructure project has been delivered. A senator who recently called the Department of Transportation secretary “underperforming” clearly did not do her research.

How are major projects getting done in record time?
Constructions are 24/7, in three daily shifts are seeing new, major roads finished in a year (unlike four to five years of unfinished bridges or roads before).  Projects are divided into phases, which allow delivery to the public in parts (unlike before when the public had to wait for the whole project to be completed before turnover). Phases are distributed among multiple contractors as well, which not only helps complete the projects faster (requiring competent supervision of standards), but also helps build our local capacity and increase employment, as opportunities are more spread out. The continued lack of skilled labor and professionals is a testament to these developments and a growing economy

Low-lying fruits that brought immediate improvements in the airports and are already leading to a tourism boom: large multilingual signs, more Wi-Fi, more immigration officers in booths to assist passengers, among many others.  Simply installing nightlights in airports has allowed airports to increase their daily service capacity. As of 2018,
20 out of the 42 airports nationwide have been night-rated, with the rest being scheduled.

Well-deserved recognition goes to the hardworking, conscientious men and women in our government agencies today, whose efforts of regular monitoring and improving made these gains possible (Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade is reported to head to the office by 4 a.m.).

Private sector and foreign partners see these and are confidently pouring in record investments into the Philippines (though there are some recent slowdowns in foreign investments entry in some industries due to headwinds in the global economy).  In January to August 2019, the Board of Investments approved investments increased by 126 percent! More importantly, in addition to the financing, the technology and skills transfers from our foreign partners accrue to long-term benefits to the Filipino, if we are to be more entrepreneurial.

China and Japan engineers are training Filipino engineers and construction workers with technology and skills not available in the Philippines. The World Bank reported China produces rails that are a third lower than other suppliers; the Chinese have successfully built the longest network of rails, have the fastest construction methods, and even work on Sundays… we have much to learn from them.

Given a more competitive global arena, the lowering of borders on migration, and the fact that many of our best engineers are abroad, one of the biggest challenges is how to accelerate the skills-training of our human resources and keep them working in the country (and maybe work toward bringing back our overseas Filipino workers)!

Much work remains. While this administration has shown its ability to have competent government officials coordinating well with each other, institutionalizing the gains will be equally important.  The private sector, business chambers, industry associations can be tapped, not only for collaboration, but also for coordination, and to be more involved in an institutional level. The Department of Education needs to hire 70,000 more teachers; the Department of Public Works and Highways needs 30,000 workers and 1,500 engineers; the Department of Health 15,000 doctors. The average Filipino is said to spend more than four hours of social media time a day, when a wealth of education and training materials are available online for free.

Perhaps instead of focusing on bashing or grandstanding for political points or headlines that contributes nothing to move the country forward, the more important work that remains is where most of our efforts should be focusing on?

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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