[Opinion] Projects that we pay for

If you were able to sit at the highest floor of the Iloilo City Hall building wherein you will have a clear view of the Islands of Guimaras and Negros or the smog-stricken skyline of Iloilo City, then you will understand why projects like the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system have infiltrated the imagination of a chief executive that lords over a highly-urbanized city.

The proposed establishment of an LRT will not connect the six districts of Iloilo City; but, rather it will link the four provinces in Panay Island – Antique, Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo.

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. was jolted by the idea and dubbed the proposal as an “ambitious” project. Over a radio interview, Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog recognized, however, that indeed the LRT project is an ambitious one. Yet he proceeded to defend the idea by saying that almost all the projects of the city government under his administration are all ambitious by nature.

A politician with a penchant for ambitious projects can aspire a long list of projects which are mostly comprised of infrastructures like road widening, bridge construction, repair or retrofitting, or the establishment of new edifice and facilities like the Iloilo Airport of International Standard, The Jalaur River Dam, the Iloilo City Hall and the Iloilo Convention Center.

The price tag for these projects makes it even more ambitious especially that the cost of which are taken from the blood and sweat of mostly ordinary minimum wage earners and employees through income tax. A big portion also comes from the contribution of people from all ages and all walks of life through the value-added tax. Financing can also come in the form of debt facility offered by the dreaded World Bank or the Asian Development Bank and paid again from public funds.

Our brilliant politicians and “evil geniuses” in government had put a moniker to these funds to make it sound publicly appealing like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or a Disbursement Acceleration Fund (DAP). These are funds that make ambitious projects possible in spite of the fact that its usefulness are often times more beneficial to a few sections of society.

Take for instance the Esplanade. I had been there many times over and the facility has mostly middle class to upper class clientele in spite of the fact that the project was made possible by people’s money amounting to P58.7-million. The 1.2 kilometer service road converted into an Esplanade is not the only project of its kind in the area, another 700-meter esplanade across the current one is being constructed with a cost of P40-million. Not only that, an additional P80-million is allocated for an Esplanade on another side of the Diversion Road going to Brgy. Nabitasan.

Moreover, the Iloilo Diversion Road is now considered a boulevard wherein one can have the freedom to bike and jog at his own risk of inhaling all the toxic vehicular emissions. Its conversion from a highway into small portions to showcase a service road, a bike lane, a side walk and gardens rolled into one, is an ambition made into reality that costs the people around P300-million. Nevermind if the entire stretch of the road facility is accident-prone because of holes here and there and tilted from one side to another.

Residents who are away from Mandurriao district have to travel going to the Diversion Road just to relish the expensive bike lane or have the pleasure of walking on fill-in blocks. The thing is they go back in their communities by navigating the flooded and mudded foot walk and improvised foot bridges which had been there since time immemorial.

You would also notice the inefficient lighting system along the Diversion Road with so much lampposts that serves more for aesthetic purposes rather than enhance lighting to improve the visual ability of motorists and prevent accidents from happening.

The list is endless. The Iloilo Convention Center put up to host the ministerial meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Iloilo City come 2015 is an ambitious endeavor that costs P450-million of people’s money. For our politicians, the edifice will showcase the Ilonggo pride, but for sure it will be useful for high-end events while it will isolate the majority taxpayers from benefiting out of the facility.

What more? The Iloilo Airport of international standards extracted P8.8-billion of public funds. The new Iloilo City hall P592-million. The Jalaur River Dam project P11.2-billion. How much will the Light Rail Transit cost taxpayers? It seems people are indebted to politicians for facilitating the realization of these projects but looking deeper at the necessity of these initiatives would illustrate that these are nothing but listed caprices of our politicians.

What the people need from the city government are efficient utilization of public funds through programs and projects that are responsive to its needs. It will not take billions of pesos in budget to provide practical solutions to everyday woes of the people in order to improve their lives. These new infrastructure projects demonstrate the lopsided priority of the government and it only reflects widening inequality and people’s poverty.

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