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The last time motorists were giddy about the use of a new piece of roadway was in December 2016 when Phase 2B of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway, or NAIAx, was opened to the public. 

Back then, I was even excited to try out the new elevated tollway to see if it indeed held up to its promise of shorter travel times through the airport complex. Dazzled by the hypnotic lights along the walls of NAIAx, I opened the roof of my roadster that chilly December night if only to feel the air of freedom the free flowing highway had to offer. 

Because of NAIAx, travel time from EDSA to the airport terminals was drastically cut short. As a side effect, even heading to Mall of Asia and Macapagal Highway was made easier via NAIAx. I preferred paying the extra 45 pesos if only to skip the stressful dreaded drive past Tramo-EDSA-Taft and the crisscrossing traffic leading up to Roxas Boulevard and Macapagal. Four years on, passing through NAIAx has now become my favorite route whenever I find myself heading to the airport, Paranaque, or west towards MOA. 

It is perhaps no coincidence that motorists were once again given a Christmas gift of sorts this 2020, when the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 was finally, albeit partially, opened. The 18-kilometer stretch that connects Skyway Buendia to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) promises to alleviate the decades-long suffering of motorists who endure the worsening traffic along EDSA, the metropolis’ main highway. 

Once fully operational, with all the exit ramps along its route in place, Skyway Stage 3 is  targeted to relieve about 55,000 cars a day from EDSA and C5. It also aims to cut travel time from Balintawak to Buendia to about 15 to 20 minutes. This means workers from Quezon City will have a faster, more convenient alternative to get to their offices in Makati. And those from outside Metro Manila, no longer have to crawl through two hours of sub-10 kilometer per hour traffic to reach the north and south expressways.

NAIAx and Skyway Stage 3 are part of the government’s initiative to lure private investment in the infrastructure sector. According to the Department of Publicworks and Highways (DPWH) website, the government’s Public-Private Partnership scheme allows for concessions and contributions in kind to its private partner. Subsidies in capital and revenue are part of the PPP perks. And this includes tax breaks, guaranteed annual revenues for a fixed period or even transfer of existing assets. 

The reality is, the government cannot afford the billions of pesos needed to create more road networks. That is why it needs the support of corporations and private companies to fund these projects. Currently, there are 30 ongoing PPP projects on the government’s plate. Each one a potential to earn not only monetary rewards for the company over a span of 30 years, but also brownie points for being a contributor to national growth and socio-economic development. 

That is why San Miguel Corporation, the country’s largest corporation in terms of revenue, is keen on investing heavily in building new tollways. Aside from the positive image it brings to the conglomerate and the brand, there will undoubtedly be a steady stream of guaranteed income, tax breaks, and perks over the next three decades for each project. Make no mistake about it, SMC is set up to recuperate its investments and earn a handsome lot for every infrastructure program it bankrolls. But the good thing about this all, is aside from building up its portfolio, SMC is also helping make life for Filipinos more that much more bearable with every infrastructure project. 

For close to 35 years, the government has seemingly neglected Filipinos whose lives continue to barely trudge by. While there have been significant improvements in the way we travel around the country, as with the introduction of Roll-on/Roll-off ships, the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway, and even the rehabilitation of NLEx and SLEx, it would seem that these have been too few and far between. 

While new airports, new sea ports and more roadways are in the pipeline, Filipinos are still suffering from delayed infrastructure development, especially in the countryside. Frankly, all these projects are about 30 years too late already with the ongoing growth rate the country has been experiencing. And it is quite sad to see that our taxes are still mismanaged, and even lost through corruption, instead of benefitting the people. Our mass-transport service is a shade of what it could be. People making do with bus stops cordoned off with chicken wire fences instead of properly lit, comfortable and accessible bus stations. Our sidewalks are not even pedestrian friendly, nor are they safe to walk through at night. The subway project, still in its infancy, is a few years from becoming a reality. Meanwhile, the suffering continues for the everyday commuter. And this is with a raging pandemic our government has just about given up trying to eradicate for the sake of the economy.  

Much has to be done in order to give Filipinos the service they deserve. And while projects such as the Skyway Stage 3 can help relieve some of the burden of traffic over the next few years, the overall thinking that building more roads will somehow eliminate traffic needs to be restudied. The practice of constructing more roads for more cars has seen its pitfalls around the world. We have an opportunity to bypass this eventual flaw in thinking by adopting a new mindset altogether. 

As a developing country, we still have the chance to repurpose billions of pesos into making urban centers a more habitable place to live in. A place where everything is but a few minutes away, whatever mode of transport one chooses. Where mass-transport is easy and cars are used only when necessary. We can learn from other countries’ mistakes, adopt solutions unique to our setting, and focus on the real needs of our population.

The role of the private sector is important to nation building. Socio-economic development is the result of combined efforts by the government and its citizens afterall. But let us not sacrifice clean air, green spaces, and a simple fulfilling life for the hustle and bustle of progress and urbanization. 

The new decade is a test for us to finally get our acts right. If progress is our goal, let it be not for the sake of a quiet and peaceful life.

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