Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros today called on the executive branch to ensure that corruption and concerns over economic viability will not “derail” the implementation of the Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) and other big-ticket transportation programs being rolled out by the government like the Manila-to-Bicol rail project.
As the Senate tackles the funding for the MRP 2020 budget under the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Hontiveros said that the government must make sure that the landmark railway project will be free from malfeasance and will result in economic gains for government and Mindanaoans alike.
She pointed in particular to MRP Phase 1 – which will run from Tagum City Davao del Norte to Digos City, Davao del Sur – whose cost has ballooned from P35.3 billion to a whopping P82.9 billion. “The DOTr must explain why the project became more expensive, when MRP Phase 1 was actually downgraded to a single-track, diesel-powered system instead of the original two-track, electricity-powered system,” she said.
Hontiveros said the higher costs of the railway means that its projected ridership – pegged at 134,060 passengers daily in 2022 – must increase as well for the project to be successful. “The urban development and economic potential of the vicinities around the stations need to become part of an overall enhanced design. Otherwise, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) may be duty bound to scrap the project for not being worth the expense,” she added.
The senator also said that MRP Phase 1 and other railway projects must be well-connected to major road networks as well as residential, commercial and tourism destinations in the areas serviced by the railway. “Hindi maeenganyo ang ating mga kababayan na sumakay sa MRP at baka malugi ito kung malayo ang railway sa mga lugar kung saan bumabiyahe, namamasyal, nag-aaral at nagtatrabaho ang taumbayan,” she noted.
Hontiveros said that the central government needs to work with local government units (LGUs) to jointly identify and finance local roads that will link to the rail stations. The LGUs will have the capacity to contribute to the needed additional funds, following the Supreme Court ruling in Mandanas v. Ochoa.
Hontiveros said that the MRP and other transportation projects should not suffer the fate met by the Northrail project during the Arroyo administration. The said project, which aimed to create a rail system from Manila to Bulacan, was shelved after being involved in allegations of bribery, overpricing and mismanagement.
“The Northrail fiasco was a costly lesson for the country – and one that we cannot afford to repeat. We must never allow unmitigated greed and unsound policies to affect the delivery of projects and programs that would uplift lives and transform communities for the better,” she said. (senate.gov.ph)