DAVAO CITY—Mindanao will be the "centerpiece" of the Philippines’ unfolding growth narrative, with a slew of big-ticket infrastructure projects ready for rollout soon to improve economic production and transform the island into a major hub of agriculture and industry, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.
Dominguez said at a briefing here by the country's economic officials that these infrastructure projects are designed to enhance economic production, open new irrigated lands for agriculture and make the movement of goods and people easier in Mindanao.
With Mindanao as the focal point of the Duterte administration’s “Build Build Build” program, Dominguez said at least five of the government’s flagship infra projects already approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, which is chaired by President Duterte, are in the South.
These are the: 1) P5.4-billion Malitubog-Maridagao Irrigation Project Phase 2 in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, which is expected to service almost 10,000 hectares of land in 56 conflict-affected areas; 2) P4.86-billion Panguil Bay Bridge project that will connect Tangub City in Misamis Occidental and Tubod, Lanao del Norte, for completion in 2021; 3) expansion and improvement projects in Davao International Airport and 4) Laguindingan Airport worth P40.57-billion and P14.6-billion, respectively, for completion in 2025; and 5) 102-kilometer Mindanao Railway Project Phase 1, Segment 1 worth 35.26 billion pesos that will connect Tagum, Davao City and Digos.
Dominguez’s announcement of the start of the Mindanao Railway Project was greeted by applause from Mindanao local officials and members of the business community present during the event.
“The centerpiece of our growth story will be the island of Mindanao. Long neglected by the centers of political and economic power, the island hosted many years of festering conflicts and failed local governance,” Dominguez said during the Philippine Economic Briefing (PEB) held at the SMX Convention Center here.
Beginning this year, he said, the government will seek to reverse such neglect by making Mindanao “the spear point of our rapid economic growth.”
“It has the headroom, the talent, and the natural resources to perform that role,” he added.
He said that alongside these projects already approved by the NEDA Board, the government is also set to complete several big-ticket infra projects in Mindanao
These include the Davao City Coastal Road, which is an 18.5-kilometer public works project that will help relieve traffic congestion in Davao City, Dominguez said.
With a project cost of P19.8 billion, construction of the road project began last year and will be completed in 2022.
Another ongoing project is the Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network, which involves the construction or improvement of 2,567 kilometers of roads across Northern Mindanao, Davao, SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotaboto-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Saranggani-General Santos City) and the CARAGA regions, Dominguez said.
With a total project cost P98.15 billion, the project is scheduled for completion in 2019. and will link farms to markets across these regions.
All of these ventures in Mindanao are among the P8 trillion-worth of infra projects that the government aims to implement on the Duterte watch, he said.
“There are other strategic projects currently under study by our economic experts. Over the next five years, the Duterte administration expects to invest P8 trillion in new infrastructure. This will stimulate our economic growth in the short term and support the development of a competitive economy over the longer term,” Dominguez said.
He likewise assured the people of Mindanao that while the government is aggressively financing and launching new infrastructure projects, it has not forgotten communities ruined by calamity or war, such as those in the devastated city of Marawi.
“All government agencies are involved in the rehabilitation of Marawi City,” Dominguez said. “A Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan is now in its final stages of formulation.”
Dominguez said the end goal of the Duterte administration’s development efforts for Mindanao and the rest of the country is to bring down poverty incidence to just 14 percent by 2022.
The government aims to achieve this goal by building on the reforms implemented over the years to put the country’s economy in order, while instituting new ones, such as tax reform to ensure reliable revenue flows for the government’s increased spending on modern infrastructure and expanded social services, he said.
Dominguez said he fully expects the economy to grow at 7 percent or better this year, with the infra modernization program providing the strong stimulus to enable the government to attain this target.
“The fiscal space opened up by budgetary discipline and tax reform enables the government to aggressively pursue the Build, Build, Build program,” he said.
Dominguez said a recent survey that ranked the Philippines first among the best countries to invest in today “caps many years of hard work we invested in putting our economy in order.”
He was referring to the survey conducted by the US News and World Report in partnership with the Wharton School of Business and Y&R’s BAV Group, which covered 6,000 business decision makers and used data from the World Bank.
“Over those years, we worked down our foreign debt to the eminently manageable level we now have. We exercised exemplary fiscal discipline to achieve investment grade credit ratings. We sustained reforms in all areas of governance to improve the ease of doing business. We implemented hard policy reforms to make the economy more vibrant and our enterprises more competitive,” he said.