RATHER than Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s answers (published here yesterday) to the questions I had raised in my January 7 column over allegations of corruption in the budget allocations for infrastructure, what impressed me more in his letter were the figures he presented that compared this administration’s outlays for infrastructure to those of previous governments.
I hadn’t seen such data, and it would have taken a lot of research time on my part to get and organize the data myself.
The data incontrovertibly prove that President Duterte is emerging, quite unexpectedly, as the country’s “Infrastructure President.” Hopefully, he will preside over a golden era of infrastructure development in our country.
I reproduce Diokno’s charts here, which, unfortunately, were not too well-presented in yesterday’s paper.
Average budget allocations for infrastructure under Duterte is P1,043 billion — 27 times the P39 billion during the administration of Fidel Ramos, who had strived to be known as an infrastructure president.
If one thinks that to compare these figures is unfair, since it does not reflect inflation, that is, that the value of a peso 20 years ago is more than its value in the past two years, check out chart 2.
Infrastructure outlays during Ramos’ time was just 1.7 percent of the GDP. Under Duterte, it is four times more, 6.3 percent of GDP. Under Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd, such outlays were only 3 percent of GDP.
The 6.3-percent-of-GDP level is past the 5.3-percent target laid out in the initial goal the administration had set, and the goal would be 7.3 percent by the last year of Duterte’s presidency. “To effectively usher into [a] Golden Age of infrastructure, the Philippine government will spend around P8.4 trillion from 2017 to 2022,” Anna Mae Lamentillo, the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) “Build Build Build” program chairman reported.
The figures on the budget of the public works department present a more dramatic picture. During Ramos’ watch, its budget was just P35 billion. This has grown 18 times under Duterte’s administration to P636 billion.
I had thought the slogan “Build, Build, Build” — which even Duterte seldom mouths in his speeches — was just a clever sound bite. The figures from the budget department show it is a reality.
Who would have thought that Duterte who had seemed to be focused solely on waging a bloody war against illegal drugs has undertaken a program that makes the most economic sense?
It is our poor state of infrastructure — such things as the quality of our roads, bridges, airports — that has been blocking our leap into developed-nation status.
Among 137 countries, rated for 2017 by the World Economic Forum, we ranked 97th in terms of infrastructure quality. Our neighbors in Southeast Asia are far ahead of us: Thailand in the 43rd slot and Indonesia, 52nd. Our country obviously has to pour in more funds to push us, at least, on par with our Southeast Asian neighbors, our competitors in the world market.
Would you believe countries like Botswana, Gambia and Kenya were ranked higher than us in terms of infrastructure quality?
Any economic history of any country in the world shows that it is infrastructure which is one of the crucial factors for jump-starting an economy to become an industrialized one: From the building of the US network of 12-lane cross-country highways starting in the late 1920s (financed by the landmark Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925) to the more recent frenzy of construction by China, initiated only in the 1990s. That Chinese focus made it the country with the highest infrastructure spending in the world from 1992 to 2011, representing an unprecedented 8.5 percent of its GDP, more than three times that of the US in the same period.
Even if Duterte’s achievement would be solely the completion of his Build, Build, Build program, even if he abandons his anti-drug war, he will be one of our greatest presidents, who may even have the distinction of starting our growth into a developed country.