Philippines approves $10b in infrastructure projects

Bulk of money to go towards country's first subway to ease chronic congestion in Manila

MANILA • An inter-agency panel chaired by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved four major infrastructure projects worth 386.3 billion pesos (S$10.2 billion), including bridges, roads and the country's first subway.

The Philippines, one of the world's fastest growing economies, is overhauling its ageing infrastructure to boost its competitiveness, create jobs and attract foreign firms hesitant about power costs, logistics headaches and supply chain challenges.

The approval and eventual completion of these projects "will pave the way for us to achieve our mid- term and long-term goals" as a nation, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said.

The latest bundle brings the total number of approved projects to 35 worth 1.2 trillion pesos since Mr Duterte took office in July last year.

The biggest plan approved on Tuesday was the 355.6 billion peso Metro Manila Subway Project, the first of its kind in the Philippines, and seen as an urgently needed solution to the sprawling capital's notorious gridlock.

It will be funded by overseas aid from Japan, and construction is expected to start early next year.

Also endorsed was the expansion of roads in the southern Philippines worth 21.2 billion pesos, construction of bridges in Manila valued at 6 billion pesos, and the improvement of an irrigation system north of the capital, worth 3.5 billion pesos.

Under the government's "Build, Build, Build" initiative, Mr Duterte has pledged to usher in a golden age of infrastructure through a six-year, US$180 billion (S$242 billion) spending spree to modernise and build airports, roads, railways and ports.

A construction boom and a strong agriculture sector fuelled annual growth of 6.5 per cent in the Philippines' gross domestic product in the second quarter.

Yesterday, Mr Duterte's critics in the Senate vowed to block a Lower House move to slash the annual budget of a public-funded human rights agency opposed to his bloody war on drugs to just US$20.

The House, dominated by Mr Duterte's supporters, voted on Tuesday to allocate a 2018 budget of just US$20 to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which has investigated hundreds of killings during the President's ferocious anti-narcotics crackdown.

Vice-President Leni Robredo, who was not Mr Duterte's running mate and has locked horns with him numerous times, said the lawmakers' move effectively abolishes the CHR, a constitutional body.

Mr Duterte's signature campaign has left thousands of mostly urban poor Filipinos dead. Critics say the lawmakers are trying to retaliate against the CHR for pursuing allegations of executions by police during sting operations, which police deny.

The CHR is among the domestic and foreign human rights groups that Mr Duterte frequently admonishes, accusing them of lecturing him and disregarding Filipinos who are victims of crimes stemming from drug addiction.

The Upper House minority bloc, composed of six staunch critics of the President, will seek to restore the 678 million peso budget the government and a Senate sub-committee had proposed for the CHR.

Senator Risa Hontiveros described the plan to cut the budget to almost nil as "a shameless rejection of the country's international and national commitments to champion human rights".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'Philippines approves $10b in infrastructure projects'. Print Edition | Subscribe