Secretary Vivencio B. Dizon, Presidential Adviser on Flagship Programs and head of the state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority, has been a key figure in the Build, Build, Build program since Day One. So, he is more qualified that nearly anyone else in the country to offer a critical and technical insight into the program and evaluate at this key moment whether or not the ambitious “promises” laid out at its onset are not close to reaping. However, it is exactly this perspective which gives him the authority to say that the Build, Build, Build program was never about promises in the first place. It was about creating a better future for Filipinos through steel, cement, gravel, infrastructure, roads, bridges, and other much needed facilities.
So of course, he was prompted to respond to a recent think-piece published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the supposed “downsizing” of the Build, Build, Build program 3 years in.
Like many hot takes on the administration’s halfway point, Inquirer zoomed in on how the program had somehow failed to live up to the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” promised by “Dutertenomics”. According to Inquirer, the Duterte administration must come to grips with the “harsh reality that grandiose ambition can only take it so far”, citing the number of promised 75 flagship projects that have recently been declared non-feasible.
What Secretary Dizon points out is what Inquirer fails to see – that the Golden Age of Infrastructure is here, whether it looks like our original blueprint or not. The President and his team can most certainly walk the talk, though obstacles like the delayed 2019 budget or other fiscal or practical limitation have affected the viability of the original route. Does this mean that it was all for show? No. This means that the administration is being pragmatic about its ambition and being optimistic on feasibility. Most importantly, the administration is not stringing President Duterte’s posters and names on banners, painting it on the sides of freeways, or embedding it in concrete onto the sidewalks that are being paved across the nation.
As Sec. Dizon explained, the administration has said from Day One that the Build, Build, Build project “ is the boldest and most ambitious infrastructure program for the future in order to sustain, and even accelerate, the country’s economic growth and, more importantly, make our people’s daily lives more comfortable”, a concept that Inquirer has sadly failed to grasp over three years later. The point of Build, Build, Build is not to exalt President Duterte – it is to lift the Filipino.
“What we have committed, and this has been on record from Day One, is to start all of them, complete as many as we can and significantly progress on most of them in order to build momentum into the years after his term ends in 2022,” said Sec. Dizon.
“Continuity is what is most important to the President, especially at this stage in his term. BBB is all about building momentum into the future so that whoever takes over will find it very difficult to discontinue these projects and will, hopefully, put the welfare of the Filipino above any political consideration,” he continued.
The downsizing that the Philippine Inquirer referred to is how the National Economic and Development Authority approved a revised list of 100 infrastructure flagship projects (IFPs) which is more reflective of current needs and more realistic for what can be started immediately and feasibly finished. Of these, more than half will be completed and some will be partially operational by 2022.
“That said, we strongly disagree with your assertion that there has been a downsizing in the Duterte administration’s promise of ushering in a “golden age in infrastructure.” Please note that the estimated cost for the 100 projects, which cover five categories — transport and mobility, power, water, information and communications technology, and urban development and renewal — is P4.2 trillion, more than double the P2.4 trillion of the previous 75 IFPs. More importantly, this only forms part of the P8-trillion budget for the whole BBB program composed of thousands of projects,” Sed. Dizon said.
26 out of the 100 projects will reportedly be implemented through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“Unlike in previous administrations where contracts were riddled with provisions that exposed future administrations to potentially huge liabilities and exorbitant user fees, the Duterte administration will ensure that PPPs promote public interest and shall be for the people,” Sec. Dizon said.
Critics of the Build, Build, Build program have been dead set from the beginning on minimizing the infrastructure program so that it can fit into their narrow box of political will. As always, operating and evaluating on a small-minded scale will eventually lead to blind spots and missed details and that is what seems to have happened with the Inquirer for their piece. They want to focus on whether President Duterte deserves the epitaph they are set on evaluating him by. They do not want to see the progress and wild success our country has seen with farm-to-market roads, road expansions or rehabilitations, economic growth, and other fiscal policies. They are determined to frame everything as something negative about China. All of these are sad and shallow attempts to view the Build, Build, Build program through a politicizing lens of their own making. Unfortunately for them, the program does not fit into their shallow bias. Unfortunately for them, the only thing their lens is doing is filtering out the Filipino people who are seeing real benefits brought to their lives sans politics thanks to Build, Build, Build.