Development (Part One)

By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

THE Iloilo business community heaped praises upon Senator Franklin Drilon over the weekend for his immense contributions to the progress of Iloilo City, in particular, the billions of pesos in road projects and the newly-inaugurated 8-kilometer Esplanade along the Iloilo River.

I know I will look like a kontra-bida once more to many, but there are a few points that I want to bring up with respect to the so-called progress attributed to the infrastructure projects of Drilon.

The first thing I would like to say is that while we do see “progress” – especially in the form of new buildings and companies that have set up shop in Iloilo City – what is happening is superficial. It is not progress in the language of economists. In fact, Drilon himself acknowledged that the region’s economic growth is below targets.

The problem is that the projects were mostly aesthetic, with little contribution to economic activity. Drilon had at his beck and call billions of pesos in DAP funds between the years 2012 and 2014. There was even a spill-over during the last five years with the extension of the Esplanade. By my count, he was able to wrangle P3 billion – at the least – to be poured into his projects.

That’s a staggering amount of money that could have really spurred progress for Iloilo.

Unfortunately, overpricing characterized almost all the projects funded from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Money that was supposed to go to activities that would enhance people’s lives were diverted into pockets of certain people.

Why do I keep saying this?

Let me give one concrete illustration: the section of the road widening along the Ninoy Aquino Jr. Avenue (or Diversion Road) between El 98 St. in Jaro and Fajardo St. If you are coming from the city, it’s that section of road from the stoplight in front of Jollibee going toward the airport with a length of 18KM. The price tag is P100 million.

If that does not make you dizzy, consider this: the plants and foliage component for that section is around P5 million! The other components are priced so exorbitantly high that it can make you puke.

Anyway, it’s not for me to investigate the overpricing. If the Commission on Audit is sleeping on its job, then it’s not my role to take over and try to recover what was unfairly and illegally taken from the government.

The 11-kilometer circumferential road from Buhang, Jaro all the way to Arevalo cost about P1 billion. That’s roughly P90 million per kilometer. Without a doubt, this stretch of highway that forms a perimeter from Arevalo to Buhang has improved mobility for Ilonggos. But at that cost, we deserve a better-built highway. Sadly, the quality of the highway is low. There are not even center-lines on the pavement.

It’s on this circumferential road that we have a 3-meter “bike” lane on one side of the highway. Hasn’t anybody thought about putting a lane for bikers going in the opposite direction? Why only on one side? Does Drilon expect bikers to crowd each other coming from opposite directions on that narrow lane? I’m sorry to say this, but this is an embarrassment. (To be continued)