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Reli L. German: Will the Year of the Dog bring hope for the 20 poorest provinces?

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How much impact would P8 to P9 trillion create on the lives of people in the 20 poorest provinces in the country? This staggering amount is said to be the fund being considered by the Duterte administration for its ambitious “Build! Build! Build!” Infrastructure Program supposed to start next year, the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar..

As for the 20 poorest provinces, 11 of these are in Duterte’s Mindanao, 6 in the Visayas and 3 in Luzon. Of the 11 provinces in Mindanao, 8 belong to the top 10, with Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Sarangani occupying the first three slots.

The data comes from the Official Poverty Statistics of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), but the information is somewhat dated as it actually covers the first semester of 2015. It is possible that there are now changes in both the rankings or in the poverty levels of these provinces.

Significantly, several of the flagship projects approved by the Board of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) are intended for provincial areas. These include the P21.19 billion for the Improving Growth Corridors in the Mindanao Road Sector Project and P3.5 billion for the Lower Agno River Irrigation System Improvement Project that will benefit several municipalities in Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac.

The NEDA also made changes in certain previously approved projects, such as the P299.4 billion for the Philippine National Railways which includes the 71-km. short haul commuter line covering 23 stations from Manila to Los Baños in Laguna. Its long haul line will run through part of Rizal, then Laguna, Quezon and down to the Bicol provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Sorsogon, which is the 20th poorest in the PSA list.

As a Mindanaoan, Duterte is expected to push hard for the implementation of projects that will lift the economic and social conditions of the people in the area. At the moment, there are three major projects there — the expansion of the airport in Davao City for P40.57 billion, the Laguindingan airport in Misamis Oriental for P14.6 billion and the 105-km segment covering the Tagum, Davao City and Digos portions of the Mindanao Railway Network for P31.54 billion.

Overall, the Mindanao Railway Network is estimated to cost US $9 billion or about P453.6 billion at current exchange rate. It will start in the second quarter of 2018 and is calendared for completion in 2021.

The network will criss-cross a large portion of Mindanao and will cover almost 2,000 kms when finished. It will connect economic zones and major sea ports and airports in the island. Among the important population and business centers the railway will serve are the cities and towns of Davao, Digos, Cotabato, Marawi, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Tagum, Carmen, Panabo, Toril and Sta. Cruz, with main loops in Zamboanga, Dipolog, Pagadian, Surigao, Koronadal and General Santos.

The implementation of these major development projects starting next year should bring hope to some of the 20 poorest provinces, even if most of them appear to be left out in the overall infrastructure program.

Hopefully, the billions allotted for the program will spur the faster development of regional economic centers and generate the needed employment and livelihood opportunities for the poor. Hopefully still, such improvements in their economic situation will motivate them to stay in their communities, instead of migrating to Metro Manila and contributing to the congestion and decay of the metropolis.

Then perhaps, we need not fear the eventual transformation of Metro Manila into a dead or dying metropolis in 25 years, as Mindanaoan Duterte envisions.

If his battlecry of “Build! Build! Build!” improves the majority of our people’s
lives, the Dogs of 2018 can respond with an appreciative “Bark! Bark! Bark!”