Infra managers to renew call for lockdown exemptions
The Duterte administration’s infrastructure managers will again ask the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases to exempt road construction and railway rehabilitation from strict movement restrictions, even as the government has yet to decide whether to lift the lockdown in Luzon and other parts of the country.
“We will seek the exemption, but we must impose very stringent measures to ensure safety and health protocols similar to what we did during the construction of the quarantine facilities,” Secretary Vivencio Dizon, presidential adviser for flagship programs and projects, told the Inquirer on Sunday.
Dizon, also president and chief executive of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), was referring to the conversion of sports complexes and convention centers in Metro Manila and New Clark City into quarantines to help decongest hospitals.
The conversion is led by the BCDA and the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The “Heal as One Centers” in Metro Manila, equipped with beds and medical equipment, include Ninoy Aquino Stadium, Philippine International Convention Center and World Trade Center.
The Asean Convention Center in Pampanga province and the New Clark City Government Center and Athletes’ Village in Tarlac province were also converted to host patients positive for COVID-19.
The conversions were allowed by the IATF as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.
But the IATF did not allow agencies to continue construction of big-ticket infrastructure projects even as there was a lull in economic activity during the originally monthlong Luzon lockdown that started mid-March. The quarantine was extended until April 30.
Infra projects delayed
In a television interview on Friday, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the rollout of public infrastructure projects was already delayed by one and a half months, although resumption of construction was being readied once the quarantine was lifted.
Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told the Inquirer on Sunday that he had asked the IATF to exempt certain projects to take advantage of the lack of vehicular traffic during the lockdown.
The projects included the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx)-South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) Skyway Stage 3, the Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension to Cavite province and the rehabilitation of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3.
Pernia said in a television interview on Saturday that the IATF had thumbed down the proposal to continue building infrastructure, even as this had the support of some Cabinet members.
Three-fourths of economyPernia had pushed for resuming businesses, noting that the private sector and household consumption accounted for about three-fourths of the Philippine economy.
His proposal to lift restrictions on private sector-led economic activity led to disagreements in the Cabinet and to his resignation last week as head of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua has been named acting socioeconomic planning secretary and Neda director general.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Sunday said pushing through with the projects would “depend on the result of the ongoing evaluation of the tradeoffs involved in the decision of maintaining the current partial lockdown, or tightening it, or loosening it further.”
Dominguez has repeatedly said the infrastructure budget will be the last thing to be touched even as the government scrambles to find or reallocate money for COVID-19 response.
Financing a challenge
For Dominguez, infrastructure—especially the P4.4-trillion “Build, Build, Build” program—will help revive the economy after the coronavirus pandemic.
Dizon told legislators last week that it may be more challenging to get financing from multilateral lenders, bilateral development partners, and even the private sector to roll out big-ticket infrastructure as COVID-19 had adversely affected economies across the globe.
Of the 100 flagship projects under “Build, Build, Build,” 22 are worth P167.9 billion and will be financed by the national budget; 49 projects worth P2.3 trillion are to be funded by official development assistance; and 29 worth P1.8 trillion by public-private partnership.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said he was unaware of “personal differences” that Pernia had with other officials that made him quit.
“The reasons he gave were cryptic. He wasn’t present in the video conference for the meeting that day. Then we only saw in the news that he quit,” Nograles said in a radio interview.
Pernia initially cited personal reasons, but later admitted that he had clashed with some Cabinet officials over his insistence on allowing more economic activity in the private sector in a modified lockdown.
“We’re sad that he resigned because we worked together and we obviously find it a loss. We obviously respect his decision although personally, I don’t know the reason behind the resignation,” he said.