The recurring blockages in Metro Manila have somehow offered a boon to the administration in terms of relieving the pressure of implementing the 105 expensive infrastructure projects under its ‘Build, Build’ program. , to build “. More importantly, the metro closures also provide an opportunity to accelerate the reduction of Metro Manila’s stifling socio-economic influence as a primate city, by diverting project implementation activities towards other regions.
The “Build, build, build” program, which is a major element of the socio-economic policies of the Duterte administration, is supposed to usher in a “golden age of infrastructure” in the country. The goals of this ambitious program are to reduce poverty, encourage economic growth and reduce congestion in Metro Manila. In 2017, the program was launched with an initial list of 75 expensive infrastructure projects, and in August 2020 the total number was increased to 105, to include infrastructure projects that would support the country’s recovery from the effects of the pandemic.
The force majeure situation in Metro Manila created by the pandemic has somewhat reduced the pressure on the government to substantially complete costly projects during President Duterte’s tenure, either by slowing down or offering a margin. maneuver to ignore the implementation of projects in the metro. This shift in focus of implementation is expected to lead to the third objective of the “Build, Build, Build” program, which is congestion reduction in Metro Manila. Fewer areas affected by COVID-19 offer the promise of achieving the program’s third goal, as more attention can be paid to the age-old demographic and economic imbalance created by the phenomenon of the primate city of Metro Manila which began in the Spanish era when Manila was made the country’s port city.
The transfer of project implementation as well as funding resources to other regions relatively less vulnerable to the pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to accelerate their development, thanks to the demonstrated multiplier effects of the implementation and operation of infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects implemented in advance, especially in other regional centers, will accelerate the development of these areas, turning them into counter-magnets against resources.
Siphon influence from Metro Manila, which already accounts for 36 percent of the country’s GDP. The transformation of these regional areas into new metropolitan poles should correct the
spatio-socio-economic imbalance in the country as factors of production in other cities are improved to attract investment, reduce import leakage and divert migration from Metro Manila. The capital already holds 16 percent of the national population over an area of just 63,300 hectares.
Another opportunity that presents itself to counter the primacy of Metro Manila is the government’s program to formulate Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Development (SUID) master plans for highly urbanized cities in other regions, with the aim of develop them into metropolitan centers that will welcome the influx of people and investments. The metropolitan master plans also propose infrastructure projects that promote the “Build, construct, construct” program by following the principles of transport connectivity, urban socio-economic concentration and reduction of vulnerability. A total of 29 studies of metropolitan areas covering the entire archipelago were recently completed and are now ready for implementation.
Obviously, not all projects big and small announced can be completed under President Duterte’s tenure. The administration now aims to complete just over half of large-scale projects, with the remaining projects due to be completed by 2028. While ambitious, the dream of a “golden age of infrastructure” deserves to be continued if we are to become an upper middle income country. The pressure will have to be passed on to the next administration, and we can only hope that the next election will produce the necessary leadership that will pursue the dream.
Meliton B. Juanico is a retired geography professor at UP Diliman and a Certified Environmental Planner.
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