THE GOVERNMENT has received a proposal from a South Korean firm to build a railway in Metro Cebu, the country’s Socioeconomic Planning chief said, signaling growing interest from abroad as authorities push for infrastructure projects outside Metro Manila.

A South Korean firm has suggested a Light Railway Transit (LRT) line that would connect the busy Visayan metropolis, foster its development and, consequently, provide an alternative hub for workers and businesses, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Ernesto M. Pernia told reporters last week.

“The Cebu LRT is an unsolicited proposal… raised to the DoTr (Department of Transportation) and also to the Cebu authorities. Putting more infrastructure in Metro Cebu would draw investors, workers and businessmen away from Metro Manila to Cebu, because Cebu is also a very attractive metropolitan area,” Mr. Pernia said.

The proposed Cebu railway is still in the early stages of study, the Cabinet official said, and will be subjected to a Swiss challenge if approved for rollout whereby other parties can submit competing offers, which the original proponent has the right to match.

Mr. Pernia said it should be possible to complete the planned Cebu LRT before President Rodrigo R. Duterte steps down at end-June 2022, if the contract will be awarded “early next year.”

The proposed Cebu LRT will have to be evaluated by the NEDA Technical Board, elevated to the Investment Coordination Committee and then to the NEDA Board for final approval before the project can be subjected to a Swiss challenge, Mr. Pernia said.

This plan will complement a bus rapid transit system for Cebu that is funded by the World Bank.

Mr. Pernia added that foreign contractors have also expressed interest to build a separate railway in Mindanao, a project that was tagged as a priority by Mr. Duterte in his first State of the Nation Address last July 25. He said builders from South Korea, Japan and China are “interested” in the 2,000-kilometer (km) railway project which is currently under a feasibility study.

One segment of the planned Mindanao railway will traverse the cities of Digos, Davao and Tagum and connect to the northern cities of Butuan, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. A separate line will link Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga City to Cagayan de Oro and Malungon, Sarangani.

“We are going to spend on infrastructure in the regions away from Metro Manila to help decongest also the already very crowded urban industrial region and bring economic development in those lagging regions, especially Visayas and Mindanao,” he said.

The government is open to allowing more foreign companies to build local infrastructure to leverage their “experience,” but under the condition that workers must be Filipinos and construction must be done 24/7, Mr. Pernia said.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said infrastructure spending is expected to reach P7 trillion from 2017 to 2022, starting with an P860.7-billion allocation next year that will be equivalent to 5.4% of gross domestic product.

Earlier this month, the NEDA ICC endorsed 10 big-ticket infrastructure projects for the President’s approval, bringing them closer to being offered to investors.

A number of railway projects have been put under the government’s public-private partnership program that has seen contracts for 12 projects cumulatively worth some P217.4 billion awarded since it was launched in the third quarter of 2010, although the P5.61-billion Philippine Orthopedic Center modernization contract was rescinded by winning bidder Megawide Construction Corp. in November last year.

Awarded projects include the P64.9-billion (inclusive of a P19.3-billion official development assistance component) LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension (CavEx) and operation & maintenance project.

The other rail projects in the pipeline are:

• P69.3-billion Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 7 involving a three-kilometer elevated railway line with 14 stations between MRT 3 North Avenue station in Quezon City and San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan as well as a 22-km asphalt road between an intermodal terminal in Tala, Caloocan City and Bocaue Interchange of the North Luzon Expressway (Groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 20, 2016 and pre-construction work is under way);

• P65.09-billion LRT Line 6 Project involving a 19-km railway between Niyog, Bacoor (the terminus of the LRT 1 CavEx) and Dasmariñas City in Cavite (deadline for submission of pre-qualification documents set on September 9);

• P170.7-billion south line of the North-South Railway Project that involves a total of 653 km between the Philippine National Railways’ (PNR) Tutuban station in Tondo, Manila and Legazpi City, Albay and whose terms are being reviewed;

• operation and maintenance of LRT Line 2 which is still being reviewed;

• PNR’s East-West Rail Project that will consist of a mostly elevated 9.4-km railway between Diliman, Quezon City and Lerma, Manila and which is still in the project evaluation stage;

• P42.89-billion LRT 4 Project that will see construction of an 11-km railway between SM City in Taytay, Rizal and the Ortigas Ave.-EDSA intersection and which is being conceptualized; and

• Manila-East Rail Transit System Project involving a railway that will connect to MRT 7 from San Mateo, Rizal, passing through Ortigas Avenue and which is also still being conceptualized.

30 August 2016
By Melissa Luz T. Lopez