'Build! Build! Build?' Several China-backed railways yet to get funding says DOTr

Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 14 2022 09:35 PM

The planned Subic-Clark Railway. Photo from the Chinese Embassy in Manila. 
The planned Subic-Clark Railway. Photo from the Chinese Embassy in Manila. 


Stalled projects include Bicol, Subic-Clark, Mindanao railways

MANILA — The construction of several China-backed railway projects under the "Build, Build, Build" program could not move forward because they have yet to be funded, an official of the Department of Transportation said on Thursday.

Among the projects that still don't have funds are the planned train systems from Laguna to Bicol, Clark to Subic, and the Mindanao Railway--which was a campaign promise of former President Rodrigo Duterte. 

“Ang gusto nating malaman ng tao, walang pondo. Para sa Calamba to Bicol, iyong P142 billion na pinag-usapan, walang pondo iyan. Iyong Clark to Subic, walang pondo yan. Iyong Tagum-Digos, yung 110 kilometers, walang pondo yan,” said Transportation Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez.
 
(We are saying this) para to manage expectations ng taumbayan, by both Houses of Congress, the Cabinet and the people. Iyong mga umaasa.” Chavez added.

(What we want the public to know is that we have no funds. The Calamba to Bicol project worth P142 billion, no funds. So do the Clark-to-Subic and Tagum-Digos projects. We are saying this to manage the expectations of the public, Congress, the Cabinet, and those hoping.)

He said the 380-kilometer Philippine National Railways (PNR) connection from Banlic, Calamba to Daraga, Albay which had a price tag of P142 billion was the largest contract among railway projects in the pipeline. 

On January 18 this year, the DOTr awarded the contract for the PNR Bicol Package 1 to the Chinese joint venture China Railway Group Ltd, China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co. Ltd.

The DOTr said PNR Bicol Package 1 construction was expected to be completed by 2024, and would start operations by the third quarter of 2025. 

Another project that had yet to be funded was the P51-billion Clark Subic railway. 

The P83-billion Mindanao Railway Project, which was set to begin its Phase 1 construction for the Tagum-Davao-Digos segment in January 2019 also had yet to secure funding. 

Chavez said that then Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III tried following up on the Philippines’ loan application with China in February this year. 

“Nagsulat si Sec. Dominguez sa Chinese governemnt: ‘Meron kaming loan application sa inyo para sa construction ng Calamba to Bicol. Meron kaming sinulat na loan application sa inyo from Clark to Subic, about P51 billion. May sinulat kaming loan application sa inyo para sa P83 billion Tagum-Davao-Digos project,’” Chavez said. 

(Secretary Dominguez wrote to the Chinese government: ‘We have a loan application with you for the construction of the Calamba to Bicol [railway. We wrote a loan application with you for the Clark to Subic [railway worth] about P51 billion. We wrote a loan application with you for the P83 billion Tagum-Davao-Digos railway.)

“At sinabi doon sa sulat ng Secretary of Finance, which means representing the government, [na] kung hindi ninyo iga-grant ang loan na ito, consider it withdrawn. Anong ibig sabihin? Dahil walang sagot, withdrawn," he continued.

(And in the letters by the Secretary of Finance, which means representing the government, if you don’t grant these loans, consider it withdrawn. What does this mean? Because there was no reply, they were withdrawn.)

Chavez added that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr instructed them to reopen the loan application and renegotiate with the Chinese government.

“So ang utos ni Presidente (Marcos), reopen the negotiation,” Chavez said.

At the start of his term, Duterte visited China and said he had brought home around $24 billion (around P1.36 trillion, $1 = 56:5) in investment and loan pledges.  

But in 2020, Duterte’s own Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said China was “slow” in providing funding for the country’s infrastructure projects. 

NEDA said that as of August 2020, or 4 years after Duterte’s China visit, the country had received only P5.9 billion for the Binondo-Intramurous and Estrella-Pantaleon bridges, P1 billion for rehabilitation of conflict-stricken Marawi City, P4.4 billion for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, and P12 billion for the New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam. 

The unfunded railway projects by China stood in contrast to the projects funded by Japan and the Asian Development Bank.

The Metro Manila Subway, South Commuter Railway, and Malolos-Clark Railway have all broken ground with construction ongoing. 

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