JICA: PH behind ASEAN neighbors in infrastructure development

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — The Philippines trails fellow Southeast Asian nations in developing infrastructure, Japan's bilateral aid agency said Friday.

"Unfortunately I have to say that the infrastructure development level in this lovely country is lagging behind ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighboring countries," Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Philippines chief representative Takema Sakamoto told CNN Philippines' The Exchange.

This is because previous administrations were not "able to allocate gigantic money" for infrastructure, Sakamoto added, while also noting the delay in implementing projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon agreed — citing "bureaucratic" red tape and corruption in all levels of government as factors.

"Well, most certainly this is a stumbling block not just for foreign investment but even for domestic investment. Because the question for investors is: would I invest in the Philippines where you have these problems, or will I invest somewhere else, somewhere around the world even in other emerging economies?" Ridon said in a separate The Exchange interview.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved in March a total of ₱9 trillion in projects under his administration's "Build Better More" infrastructure program.

The Marcos administration aims to spend 5-6% of gross domestic product (GDP) in infrastructure annually — with spending seen breaching 6% of GDP by the end of his term in 2028.

With this, Sakamoto said the government is "on track" to boosting Philippine infrastructure with its commitment to accelerate development.

The JICA official noted he recently signed around 400 billion yen (about ₱167 billion) in loans for the country — with the Philippines being the agency's second biggest beneficiary country worldwide next to India.

Meanwhile, Ridon said the government's infrastructure push must also "have a good focus" on housing, and ensure the implementation of social and environmental safeguards.