Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday said a massive infrastructure program for Mindanao will be key to spurring growth and putting an end to the Mindanao armed conflict.
"Higher road density leads to lower poverty incidence. An accelerated infrastructure development, particularly in Mindanao, can bring to fruition the long-held belief that the region is the country's land of promise," Escudero said.
"An accelerated infrastructure program for Mindanao can address the socio-economic issues in the region. A 'roads-for-peace' plan, anchored on poverty alleviation and social advancement through economic activity, can effectively address Mindanao's ills," the opposition senator said.
He noted that a 10-percent increase in road access, coupled with social interventions such as education, can raise by at least one percent the income of the poor.
Mindanao has an existing national road network of 7,815 kilometers, but bulk of the region's road infrastructure, about 60,000 kilometers, is considered local, with only 5.5 percent paved.
"More roads mean more access for both sellers and buyers. More roads will pump-prime local economies through investments and tourism. By increasing economic activities in Mindanao, we will be providing opportunities for the region to maximize its potential as a major growth area," Escudero said.
He also assailed the government for its dismal failure to prop up infrastructure.
"The Arroyo administration has been ineffective in developing the country's infrastructure. Take the case of the Road Users Tax, which in 2008 reached P8 billion. Disbursements favored safety signs despite the clear legislative intent as to the use of at least 70 percent of the proceeds for road surface maintenance," he said.
Escudero also said the Arroyo government is hounded by transparency issues.
"When I joined Congress 11 years ago, the Department of Budget submitted a specific price list of specific item such as a classroom or kilometer of road or a linear meter of a bridge. Today, there is no cost ceiling for a big-ticket road project," the senator lamented.
Escudero said the sorry state of the country's roads has resulted in billions of pesos in vehicle maintenance and repair costs. Citing World Bank statistics, he said about P42 billion is lost annually to road accidents caused by bad roads and the lack of or poor road signs.