JULY 31, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is expected to name this week the five Cabinet members who will act as "focal persons" in the implementation of over P300 billion worth of major infrastructure projects in the country’s five super regions, Malacañang said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Management Staff chief Arthur Yap said Mrs. Arroyo will appoint the five Cabinet members to make sure that the government’s massive spending plan for the five super regions — North Luzon, Metro Luzon, Central Philippines, Mindanao and the "Cyber Corridor" — would be fully implemented on time.

"Most likely the Cabinet officials who would be named are those directly involved in the mega regions like heads of the department of public works (and highways), transportation and communications and agriculture," Ermita said.

"The heads of the regional development councils could also be appointed as in charge," he added.

Yap, for his part, said Mrs. Arroyo has asked him along with presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor to recommend the five officials.

He said Mrs. Arroyo also ordered him and the rest of the Cabinet members to "spend more time in the field" and ensure the implementation and progress of the commitments spelled out in the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

In her SONA last July 24, the President unveiled a detailed pump-priming plan for the five super regions that would also be supported by government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), local government units, as well as the private sector through build-operate-transfer (BOT) schemes.

The SONA projects include four railway systems, including the Southrail project linking Metro Manila to Bicol; 17 projects to improve or construct new airports; 15 projects on road widening, farm-to-market roads, and new roads; construction of four ports and roll-on-roll-off ports; two irrigation projects, including small irrigation systems totaling P2.4 billion in one year; and digital infrastructure development.

Yap said the national government would shoulder the bulk of the cost of the projects or half of them.

The GOCCs, for their part, would finance over a third of the projects while BOT projects and the local government units would take up the remainder, he said.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said the massive spending would not affect the government’s goal of balancing the budget by 2008. She pointed out that the amount was just a third of the P1 trillion Medium Term Public Investment Plan of the government.

Since the 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) and other new fiscal measures were set in place last year, the government can now earmark an additional P100 billion annually for each of the five super regions for the next three years at least.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the government stands to earn an additional P75 billion from VAT revenues alone.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved