Diokno says government-to-government deals will help in areas where private contractors may be hesitant to go because of security concerns. Philstar.com/File photo
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may resort to hiring out-of-school youth to form large construction crews to speed up public spending, especially in rebel-held areas, which the Duterte government aims to penetrate.
After unveiling higher budget deficit under its proposed P3.35-trillion budget next year, the new administration wants to make sure agencies do not underspend to the detriment of economic growth.
“In the past, private contractors are afraid to go into rebel-infested areas because of the conflict. Our modality here is to make it a government-to-government transaction,” Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno told The STAR in an interview.
“We will create engineering brigades, we will buy equipment for them, and they will be the ones to build the infrastructure,” he said.
The proposal, which will put up to 1,200 people per group under the Philippine Army, will occupy areas such as in Mindanao, where rebels are still trying to finalize a new peace pact with President Rodrigo Duterte, who hailes from the same region.
In that particular area, Diokno said project progress will be monitored by no less than the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process.
“Projects from school buildings to farm-to-market roads will be undertaken by these brigades, which in a way will shorten the contracting process because there is no private sector involved,” he explained.
The idea will come on top of a round-the-clock public construction scheme the government will impose on certain projects in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao by Jan. 1.
These brigades will be composed not only of engineers, but also by common people such as out-of-school youth who will be hired and trained by the government.
In a way, Diokno said, it also tackles unemployment, which, at 6.1 percent as of April, remains one of Southeast Asia’s highest.
“We will have them trained by TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authroity) and then supervise them under the Army. Let’s say we employ them for three years, after that they may be able to get hired,” he explained.
Allocations for the brigades will be sourced from unprogrammed funds for new personnel worth P96.10 billion in 2017.
Underspending in the previous administration has been blamed for the economy slowing down in 2011 and 2013. As of the first quarter, the local economy expanded 6.9 percent and Diokno expected a similar performance for the April-June period.
Despite strong growth, however, more than a quarter of Filipinos remain poor and Duterte’s economic team vowed to spread the prosperity outside of Metro Manila.
For instance, Diokno said a “big share” of the proposed outlay for next year will be given to Mindanao, especially under the the P860.7-billion infrastructure spending.
“We are trying different and new things to address the problem of absorptive capacity of agencies to spend. Our medium-term plan is really aggressive,” he said.
A study on how agencies spend their budget is being conducted and results will be out by January, just in time for the next budget to take effect.
Budget data showed the planned capital outlay is up 13.8 percent year-on-year. There was also proof that more focus is being given to the countryside.
For instance, regions occupying Mindanao saw an increase of 73.02 kilometers in paved roads last year, higher than the capital’s 2.93 kilometers and Region IV-A’s or Calabarzon’s 42.78 kilometers, Public Works data showed.
Diokno said this could spike during Duterte’s term and maintained that a wider deficit of three percent of gross domestic product is manageable.
“This is the norm and this is in fact the government already working to support growth,” he said.