Interview: Shinichi Kitaoka

Which sectors of the Philippine economy can benefit most from JICA’s development assistance?

SHINICHI KITAOKA: In line with our Development Cooperation Charter, JICA assists the Philippines with three priority themes: 1) achieving sustainable economic growth through investment promotion; 2) overcoming vulnerability and stabilising bases for human life and production activity; and 3) peace and development in Mindanao. I believe these themes fit quite well with President Rodrigo Duterte’s 10-point socio-economic agenda, which lays out priority issues to be tackled during his six-year term for more equitable growth. For example, the administration has made clear its strong commitment to spend at least 5% of GDP on infrastructure investment, which JICA has long been supporting, particularly in terms of decongesting Metro Manila’s ever-increasing traffic. Another example is that JICA has been actively assisting farmers in the country’s rural areas who tend to be vulnerable to climate change, natural disasters and the international prices of agriculture products, in line with the new administration’s clear direction to shift its growth concentration from Manila to the countryside. With these clear policy directions, strong political commitment and our continued assistance combined, I am sure the country will see more sound and equitable growth in the years to come.

How is the Philippines addressing traffic issues in Metro Manila to support long-term growth?

KITAOKA: According to our study, traffic congestion in Metro Manila incurs P2.4bn ($47.7m) in traffic costs to the economy every day. It is definitely a serious problem hampering economic potential. To address this, JICA has assisted the Philippines through the Metro Manila Transport Roadmap. Metro Manila’s problems can no longer be solved without creating new regional growth centres complemented by a strong north-south transport backbone composed of high-capacity railways, efficient road networks and modernised public transport. To support the Philippine government in realising the roadmap vision, we have committed the largest Official Development Assistance loan in JICA’s history for the North-South Commuter Railway Project. We are also working with the government on some road network development and interchange improvement projects in an effort to resolve bottleneck points in the capital. I believe it is critically important that these efforts to build infrastructure be coupled with soft aspects such as good planning, regulatory framework, institutional arrangement and traffic management.

How can the Philippines strengthen its environmental resilience and disaster preparedness?

KITAOKA: Many say there is little downside risk in the Philippine economy, but nobody can predict the impact of natural disasters. The Philippines is very prone to natural disasters such as typhoons, land slides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Climate change can sometimes cause unexpectedly larger damages than precedent cases when a natural disaster happens, therefore investment in disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) for both hard and soft infrastructure is important. According to the UN, one dollar of investment today could save seven dollars in recovery costs. With growing national income and accumulated assets, it’s becoming more expensive to recover from disaster, but it’s become easier than ever to spend more on prevention. The Philippine government’s awareness of DRRM increased through the Typhoon Yolanda experience. In the Yolanda recovery efforts, they put the concept of ‘build back better’ at the centre. They are also working with us on several flood control projects and on capacity development of their national meteorological, seismic and DRRM agencies. I cannot over-emphasise that non-structural measures such as preparing a hazard map, making an evacuation plan, and educating communities and individual citizens should be done at the same time as structural improvements.