JICA eyes more railway, social development projects in PHL

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

THE JAPAN International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is looking to fund more railway infrastructure and social development initiatives in the Philippines this year.

“For this year, actually we have many, many pipeline projects here, but it’s a little bit early for me to say the actual number because we need some more consultation with our Japanese parliament, taxpayers, and the Japanese government,” JICA Chief Representative in the Philippines Takema Sakamoto told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of an event late on Tuesday.

“Last year, size-wise, I signed roughly ¥300 billion (around P110 billion)… and I hope we can maintain the same size or level for that.”

Official development assistance (ODA) from foreign lenders helps the Philippine government fund major infrastructure and social development initiatives amid limited fiscal space.

This year, JICA will continue supporting the Philippines’ railway projects to encourage the public’s shift to mass transportation, Mr. Sakamoto said.

JICA will also continue funding the construction of roads and bridges in the country.

In March, the Philippine government and JICA signed two loan commitments totaling ¥250 billion to fund the ongoing construction of the Metro Manila Subway and a road project that involves building the longest tunnel in the country.

JICA also recently partnered with Japanese firms Sumitomo Corp. and Hankyu Corp. to support the operations and maintenance of Light Rail Transit Line 1.

For this year, the agency is looking to fund social development initiatives, particularly in health and water sanitation, Mr. Sakamoto said.

JICA is also planning to fund initiatives to promote peace in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

In particular, JICA will continue supporting BARMM’s infrastructure development, job creation, skills training, as well as governance and capacity development, Mr. Sakamoto said.

“The Bangsamoro peace process is not just for the Bangsamoro area’s development, but for the entire Philippines’ development,” he said. “A safer and secure situation in the [Bangsamoro] is a prerequisite for the invitation of more investments and so on.”

BARMM is currently preparing for its first-ever parliamentary elections next year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sakamoto said challenges to project implementation in the Philippines include slow permitting process and delayed payments to project contractors.

“Commitment is already enough. [However], we need actual action on the ground to keep the promise, and not to change the rule in the middle,” Mr. Sakamoto said.

Government-issued orders like Executive Order (EO) No. 59 and Administrative Order (AO) No. 19 should address bottlenecks in planning for infrastructure projects and boost investor confidence in the country, he added.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. recently issued EO 59 to fast-track the approval of key infrastructure project proposals, while an interagency committee was formed under AO 19 to streamline land acquisition for railway projects.

“As such, the government of the Philippines is doing their best to alleviate those hurdles or obstacles,” Mr. Sakamoto said. “I hope we can see a dramatic, speedier implementation on the ground this year.”   

Japan was the country’s second-largest source of ODA in 2022, accounting for 30.75% or $9.96 billion of the total, according to data from the National Economic and Development Authority.