BUILDING railways will make the Philippines a more inclusive country as mass transport provides the poor a means to reach more economic opportunities at a fraction of the cost, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

At the sidelines of the Post-State of the Nation Address (SONA) Economic Briefing, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan told reporters that railways remain among the cheapest ways to transport goods and services.

Undertaking rail projects this time around would be more feasible for the Philippines since there is more financial headroom, he added. This will also benefit millions of Filipinos, including the poor, who are looking for affordable transportation options to get to and from work or to sell their wares.

“We talk about inclusivity but you don’t provide the cheapest way of moving goods and services,” Balisacan said. “Railways are among the cheapest (means of transport compared to) highways, roads, and airplanes.”

In his presentation at Tuesday’s briefing, Public Works Secretary Manuel M. Bonoan said the rail projects of the administration will include but will not be limited to the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR); Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 Extension to Cavite; the Metro Manila Subway; and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 7, among others.

Undertaking these kinds of infrastructure projects in the next six years will bring the country closer to the dream of reducing poverty down to single-digit at 9 percent. The poverty incidence was at 23.7 percent in the first semester of 2021.

Efforts to lift millions of Filipinos from poverty is the overarching goal of the country’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP). Specifically, Balisacan said, the country’s medium-term socioeconomic blueprint aims to raise productivity to allow poor Filipinos to escape poverty.

“Our intention here and our aspirations is not to just achieve high growth, sustain a growth of 6.5 percent to 8 percent, even more importantly (we want) to ensure that growth is more inclusive this time than in the previous years. (This is) so that our Filipino people, the majority of poor people, will also rise with the tide,” Balisacan said.

He noted, meanwhile, how vital it is to tap the private sector in undertaking the railway projects, especially through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which allow the government to access not only resources, but also innovations that will allow for affordable and high quality railway projects.

This will also entail amending the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

Balisacan explained that addressing the weaknesses of the BOT Law and the “problematic” IRR, which was just revised by the previous administration, will encourage the private sector to undertake these PPPs.

“We [also] need to enhance the capacity of the PPP center to deliver, to monitor, coordinate agencies. Once we get the executive director appointed, things will move faster,” Balisacan said.

The PPP Center, one of Neda’s seven attached, is the central coordinating and monitoring agency for all PPP projects in the Philippines.

It enables implementing agencies in all aspects of project preparation, managing of the Project Development and Monitoring Facility (PDMF), providing projects advisory and facilitation services, monitoring and empowering agencies through various capacity building activities.

JULY 27, 2022