I am glad that most of the candidates for president have expressed their willingness to continue, in one form or another, “Build, Build, Build,” which is the flagship program of President Rodrigo Duterte. There was some worry that because of the acrimony in Philippine politics and the prospects of discontinuity as a new administration takes over the infrastructure program will be terminated. In several of the debates and interviews, many of the frontrunners in the presidential race have expressed their intention to pursue infrastructure development if they win in the May 2022 elections.
I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that someone would actually think that infrastructure development is a bad policy idea. Historical and empirical evidence show that infrastructure development as public policy works. According to estimates by The McKinsey Global Institute, “infrastructure has a socioeconomic rate of return around 20 percent.” This means that for every “$1 of infrastructure investment an increase of 20 cents in Gross Domestic Product” may be experienced in the long run. I would say that is a worthy investment.
There are, of course, infrastructure programs that are mismanaged. Corruption, over-reliance on borrowings, and, projects that do not translate to the public good are some of the reasons why some infrastructure projects fail. But the principle behind infrastructure programs as the backbone of economic development is rock-solid.
Massive infrastructure projects translate to increased economic activities — employment goes up, money is infused into the economy, valuable resources such as tax and tolls are injected to government coffers, industrial productivity is increased, and in general, quality of life is improved.
For instance, the infrastructure project under the “Build, Build, Build” program generated 6.5 million jobs from 2016-2020. Another example would be the Skyway 3 project which has significantly reduced travel time from Alabang to Balintawak and vice versa to only 30 minutes from the previous three hours, and from Buendia to Balintawak, to only 20 minutes. Not to mention the fact that it will decongest EDSA and other major roads in Metro by as much as 55,000 vehicles per day.
When my son, Mark, was still Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), he told to me that this was part not just of the flagship program of the current administration but also of a more specific plan to decongest EDSA. In the middle of his hectic Senatorial campaign schedule, Mark explained to me that he will strongly support “the continuous implementation of the EDSA Decongestion Master Plan that seeks to decongest the metro’s busiest avenue.”
I remember Mark, even when he was still DPWH Secretary, passionately explaining that these projects to decongest the main roads are designed to better the quality of life of Filipinos. It sounds much more beautiful in the Filipino language and when Mark says it with his calm but forceful voice: “para mapaginhawa ang buhay ng mga Pilipino” and “para yung oras na dati ay ginugugol sa biyahe, ngayon ay mas mailaan na kasama ang pamilya.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) for instance has noted, pre-pandemic, that the “Philippine economy ranks among the best performers in Asia in recent years,” but its “outdated and insufficient infrastructure” prevent it from fully enjoying the benefits of such growth. This is the reason why gaining the commitment from the future President of the country that he or she would continue the “Build, Build, Build” program is crucial to our sustainability and our ability to recover from the pandemic.
In fact, the next president should expand its infrastructure program to include, not just roads, bridges, and railways but also energy, communication facilities like internet lines, industrial facilities such as farm-to-market roads, fishing ports and, industrial parks, and, simply because we are a disaster-prone country, disaster prevention and management facilities.
To me, voting wisely means voting for candidates who will champion infrastructure development as a policy. Voting meaningfully means casting your crucial votes to people who will fight for the right of the Filipino to have a better quality of life.