The head of the Duterte administration’s economic team is wondering why the United States can barely be felt in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program even if the country has done enough to solicit the economic giant’s attention.
“I was just reflecting on what we’ve done in the first half of the President’s term, and I think this administration can do two things at once: we can chew gum and walk across the room at the same time. We can do serious policy reforms as well as implement them properly, and that we can deliver on our infrastructure program on time and on budget,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said during a recent meeting with the US-Asean Business Council.
A high-level delegation of the Washington-based group espousing to advance US business interests in Southeast Asia was in town, led by its president and chief executive Alexander Feldman and senior vice president Ambassador Michael Michalak. Representatives from giant American firms were in tow.
Dominguez noted there was interest among US businesses to take part in the government’s infrastructure program, but the finance chief told members of the US-Asean Business Council: “Now is a good time to check if there has been any real participation from you in our Build, Build, Build projects.”
In a statement, the Department of Finance (DOF) said Dominguez also lamented the US government had been “reluctant in providing compact assistance to the Philippines” via its Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), a US foreign aid agency.
During the meeting, the DOF said Dominguez “recalled that the compact assistance from MCC of about $200 million would have helped improve infrastructure in the eastern coast of Luzon, but the Philippines ‘for one reason or another, didn’t make the cut.’”
“If American investors are interested, those exploring opportunities outside the congested Metro Manila area can train their sights on the New Clark City (NCC) in Central Luzon that the government is transforming into the country’s first green and smart metropolis,” Dominguez said. He said that as the main venue for this year’s Southeast Asian Games, the NCC would boast of a world-class airport linked to the Subic Bay Seaport via a railway and expressway.
US aid agency MCC this month included the Philippines among 63 low-income and lower-middle income countries that were candidates for the Millennium Challenge Account Assistance for fiscal year 2020.
In 2016, the MCC deferred making a new compact for the Philippines as the country had been “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under then US president Barack Obama, who has been critical of President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.
The following year, the Philippines withdrew from its bid for an MCC grant to build roads along the coast of Eastern Luzon.
For fiscal year 2019, MCC gave the Philippines passing grades in 14 of 20 indicators, a marked improved from previous scores. Still, the country again got a failing grade in rule of law under the “ruling justly” category.—BEN O. DE VERA
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