Infrastructure: Aquino's biggest mishap

AFP photo
AFP photo

The Supreme Court’s (SC) much-anticipated decision on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) represents a potential political earthquake.

For critics of the government, the SC’s unanimous verdict on the partial unconstitutionality of the DAP is a huge blow to the Aquino administration’s credibility, undermining its image as the harbinger of “good governance” in the country. The Aquino administration has sought to downplay the issue, arguing that the SC decision doesn’t carry specific administrative or criminal charges against high-ranking officials. In short, the government’s main contention is that the DAP’s unconstitutionality doesn’t imply the government’s betrayal of public trust.

While one could argue that  impeaching President Benigno Aquino remains to be a farfetched prospect, critics will no doubt continue to question the legacy of the government -- and mobilize their resources to chip away at the political capital of the president. It remains to be seen whether there will be any concrete impact on the ongoing efforts to incarcerate leading senators, noticeably from the opposition parties, on charges of corruption. What is more certain, however, is that the issue could cast a dark shadow on the twilight years of the Aquino administration, as we rapidly inch closer to the 2016 presidential elections.

No doubt, many Filipinos and foreign observers will continue to praise the Aquino administration for its seemingly sincere efforts to crack down on institutional corruption, especially within the upper echelons of the state apparatus. But what many can’t deny is how we are yet to see effective governance in the realm of infrastructure development, which has, in turn, constrained our ability to lay down the foundations of a sustainable economic boom.

Fresh into office, the Aquino administration promised an era of unparalleled progress in the realm of basic infrastructure, launching more than a dozen big-ticket Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) projects. Lamenting the Philippines’ dismal infrastructure landscape, practically everyone -- from ordinary commuters, to small and medium enterprise, and multinational companies -- was elated by Aquino’s policy commitments.
Four years into office, there has been no discernible progress on any of the PPP projects. Worryingly, the whole PPP scheme has been mired in controversy-after-controversy, as a growing number of companies question the credibility of the whole bidding process. Many are doubtful if any major PPP project will be finished before 2015.

Foreign investors continue to shun the Philippines, precisely because they doubt if the country has the kind of basic infrastructure to absorb multi-billion Greenfield investments, which are extremely crucial to (a) resuscitating the manufacturing sector and (b) providing well-paying jobs to millions of ordinary Filipinos. The exorbitant cost of electricity, largely due to the clumsy process of privatization in recent decades, has only exacerbated the situation.

In response, the government has ramped up infrastructure spending in recent months, running the risk of more excessive traffic congestion and sloppy construction work. To the outrage of many citizens, when an inefficiently run MRT shutdown, the government simply advised commuters to search for “alternatives”. Meanwhile, the shabby, decrepit NAIA I Airport -- the world’s gateway to the Philippines -- continues to be the premiere recipient of international flights while ranking among the worst of its kind in the world, giving a highly negative impression to foreign visitors.

Above all, however, infrastructure is about the quality of life of ordinary citizens. Spending long hours in traffic jam, one would wonder how he/she ended up wasting many precious hours of his/her life in the unbearable heaviness of Metro Manila’s congested roads. Throughout much of the rural Philippines, there has hardly even any basic, well-maintained infrastructure.
The sad truth is that infrastructure may not even be the main topic in the next presidential elections.

Richard Javad Heydarian teaches political science and international relations at Ateneo De Manila University. He has written for or has been interviewed by Aljazeera, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @Richeydarian.

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