MANILA - San Miguel Corp on Wednesday said it has no "formal engagement" with urban planner Architect Jun Palafox on the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project but there were "initial discussions" for a potential consulting deal.
SMC president and CEO Ramon Ang issued the statement after Palafox and Associates said the firm has not signed any contract for PAREX.
"There is no formal engagement with Arch Palafox, but we have been in discussion, something that we have been very clear from the start – that we want him to help us do PAREX right," Ang said in a statement.
The SMC chief meanwhile lashed out at critics of PAREX, who he said, were putting pressure on Palafox.
"We’ve come to learn from him, however, that forces critical of the project have been exerting pressure on him, his associates, and his family to drop the project," he added.
PAREX is a 19.4-kilometer, six-lane elevated expressway along the banks of Metro Manila’s biggest river. It is expected to reduce travel time between the Eastern and Western sections of Metro Manila.
Critics of the PAREX project have said that instead of easing traffic, the new tollway will worsen it because it will induce more people to buy cars, thus contributing to congestion.
Opponents of the new tollway also said it will only benefit a minority of car owners, not the commuting public, and will impact Pasig River's environment as well as its heritage sites.
Ang however said San Miguel has committed sustainability efforts for the project including the P2 billion cleanup of the Pasig River, the integration of a Bus Rapid Transit system, bicycle lanes and walkways and the intent to hire Architext Palafox.
The San Miguel chief said the river has long been considered "biologically dead" and has been a dumpsite for solid waste, but the company would still take action by cleaning and rehabilitating the river.
"We will spend P2 billion initially to extract at least 3 million metric tons of solid waste from the river to allow it to channel floodwaters more effectively. This will also allow for safer operations of water ferries," Ang said.
He added that the Pasig River won't be covered by PAREX. The infrastructure will be built on the banks of Pasig River, occupying 1 meter of the average 200 meters width of the river, SMC said.
On the allegation that the project is anti-poor, Ang said it would be a "hybrid expressway" that can accommodate multiple modes of transport including motor vehicles and a Bus Rapid Transit.
SMC said they would now focus on the design following the recent approval from the government.
During this time, "all valid concerns of stakeholders" will be taken into consideration and where Palafox and his team can provide their valuable insight, the company said.
SMC said it has the capacity to improve accessibility and mobility, decongest traffic, create jobs and boost the economy while rehabilitating the Pasig River at no cost to the taxpayers and the government.
"It will be a great disservice to millions of Filipinos who will benefit from the multiple benefits of this project, if a vocal, passionate, but perhaps misinformed sectors of society, will be swayed to inaction or the status quo," Ang said.
"We remain steadfast in our mission of being part of the solution, of doing things right, showing malasakit for our people and environment,
and supporting nation-building for the common good," he added.