Some P861 billion will be allocated for infrastructure spending next year, according to the budget for 2017 that has been submitted to Congress, and will be presented in a bicameral meeting today, according to Mr. Diokno.
“If plans will push through, I think we will have a new budget by the middle of December,” Mr. Diokno said.
“In less than five months after the President took his post, the NEDA board has already have approved 18 major public infra ready for bidding,” he said, referring to the body that vets major national projects.
Mr. Diokno said that “as an emerging economy, we really have to invest in roads, bridges, modern transit systems et cetera.”
He said that with the volume infrastructure projects in the pipeline, he is expecting a conservative target next year of infrastructure spending equivalent to 7% gross domestic product (GDP), and 8% by the end of the government’s term in 2022.
He also said that the administration plans on investing in tourist destinations, particularly Palawan. “We will put a lot of money in Palawan. I think Palawan is going to be the next major tourist destination,” Mr. Diokno said.
In a separate statement, Finance Undersecretary Grace Karen Singson said that under the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), the Philippines will have to invest $23 billion in tourism infrastructure between now and 2022, to make the sector “not only sustainable and highly competitive in the region but also socially responsible to propel inclusive growth.”
Ms. Singson also said that the NTDP will cover road networks, airports, cruise ports, railways, site infrastructure, tourism enterprise zones, transport units, accommodation, and aircraft acquisition.
She said the NTDP aims to pave 2,620 kilometers of roads over the next six years, amounting to $2 billion worth of investment.
Ms. Singson added that the tourism sector is the third-biggest contributor to Philippine GDP, and accounts for five million jobs, or 12.7% of the country’s total employment in 2015.
In the statement, Ms. Singson said that the government’s goal is to double the number of foreign tourist arrivals, increase tourism revenues by 90% and generate 14.4% of total Philippine jobs from the tourism sector by the time Mr. Duterte steps aside in 2022.
Mr. Diokno projected that by 2022, infrastructure spending will account for 7.2% of GDP, higher than the previous administration’s 5% target, which was never met.
“We do not have any fear, we do not have an inflationary situation down the road, because we know that the cost of borrowing money at this time is very low,” said Mr. Diokno. “I have not seen these kind of interest rates for a lifetime, you can borrow money from Japan at 0.25% interest with 40 years to pay,” he said.
“This is the right time to borrow money and support our public infrastructure spending.”
Apart from the ramping up of infrastructure spending, Mr. Diokno said that the government will also focus on developing people.
He said that 40% of the budget will go to social services. Education alone will receive P700 billion, with a big chunk going to the K-12 program, while state universities and colleges will get P60 billion.
He also noted that the education budget will include free tuition to those taking take science courses in all state universities and colleges. — E.J.C. Tubayan