Strained Infrastructure in Philippines Erodes the Nation’s Growth Prospects

Photo by Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Photo by Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

By Floyd Whaley/nytimes.com – Chris Ibasan travels only about five miles to work each day in one of Manila’s business districts, but it is often a grueling two-hour commute that gets him into the office late.

“My manager understands,” said Mr. Ibasan, a 24-year-old shipping company employee. “Everyone is late; even the managers are late for work.”

From Mr. Ibasan’s perspective, the problem is simple.

“There are too many people going to work, too many vehicles and not enough roads,” he said. “And taking the train is like lining up to see a movie star. You wait for hours.”

But from an economist’s perspective, the problem is even larger. The 2.2 million vehicles a day that grind away on Manila’s crumbling road system cost the country 876 billion pesos a year, or more than $20 billion, in lost productivity and wasted energy, according to a recent study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. That is a serious drain on an economy of about $250 billion.

“Infrastructure in the Philippines — transport, energy and communication — is in a difficult state to say the least,” said Thierry Geiger, an economist with the World Economic Forum. “Year after year, when we ask business executives based in the country about the state of infrastructure, they say that it is improving. Yet it remains a major bottleneck.”

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