Big projects underway in 'golden age' of infrastructure

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Big-ticket projects will usher in the "golden age" of infrastructure under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, according to government officials at a press conference in Malacañang on Thursday.

Trasportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Socioeconomic Secretary Ernesto Pernia, and Bases Conversion and Development Authority Chairman Vince Dizon all agreed -- major infrastructure projects will decongest Metro Manila traffic and deliver regional development.

"We are hitting not only the roads, the airports, the rails, but also the seaport. Hopefully, having given this thrust…given this build, build, build battlecry, we can really put a stronghold in the development and growth of this country," Tugade said.

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Dizon said many big infrastructure projects like the improvement of Clark Airport are long overdue.

The delay in projects contributes to the worsening traffic in major thoroughfares like EDSA.

Dizon said in Central and Northern Luzon, there were 8 million passengers who traveled last year, either in domestic or international flights. 

Clark Airport recorded only 10 percent of that, or 800,000 passengers.

"What did the other 7.2 million passengers do? They went to NAIA, through EDSA," he said.

Dizon also said it's about time for government to properly address the congestion in Metro Manila.

"Ano ang long-term solution sa traffic at sa congestion? Kailangan tayong gumawa ng mga iba't-ibang mga syudad, mga bagong syudad, na lilipatan ng mga kababayan natin," he said.

[What's the long-term solution for the traffic situation and to congestion? We need to build new cities where people can go to.]

Villar said the Philippines is lagging behind its ASEAN neighbors when it comes to infrastructure.  But the public works chief said the government intends to catch up by spending five to seven percent of the country's GDP for infrastructure throughout President Duterte's term.

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Villar said the government will focus on railway projects, improvements on seaports and airports, and mega bridges that would connect islands to islands. These will promote mobility and interconnectivity.

Most of the projects, he said, will start as early as next year.

NEDA Chief Pernia said public spending for infrastructure will be ramped up from 2 to 3 percent of GDP last year, to 5.5 percent in Duterte's first year in office.

He added some $200 billion will be spent for at least nine major infra projects, which includes the 45-kilometer long Manila-Clark railway, and the 2,000-kilometer Mindanao express among others.

Emergency powers needed

The officials however said one thing is needed to fast track the implementation of major infrastructure projects: emergency powers for the President.

Tugade said they are only asking for a two-year window, and not Duterte's entire term.

"Kung hindi bibigyan ng emergency powers (ang Pangulo), baka maantala ang inilatag na infrastructure projects," Tugade said. [If the President won't be given emergency powers, it's possible that these infrastructure projects planned will be delayed.]

For now, Tugade said most of the projects are undergoing feasibility study, with assistance from China.

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Tugade said this does not mean the projects will automatically be awarded to Chinese companies since these will need to undergo a bidding process. 

But they are expecting an endorsement of "reputable and credible companies" from the government of China.