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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Mindanao railway project gets support

HERE'S good news for Mindanaoans. A financial institution is willing to fund an ambitious project pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte who is bent to tranform his term until 2022 into "Golden Age of Infrastructure."

This transport project, the Mindanao Railway System, has been proposed years back, but not given so much attention by the past administration which even failed to address a worsening traffic problem happening before their eyes -- the Metro Manila traffic.

Thanks to a Mindanaoan president who vowed to give focus to infrastructure development in Mindanao left behind for such a long time.

Duterte, in fact, included the Mindanao railway system project under his administration's ambitious "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program.

The Standard Chartered Bank last week announced interest in providing financial and technical assistance to the Philippines in implementing the proposed railway system in Mindanao.

This was discussed in a recent meeting between Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and the bank's officials who also offered the bank's services in facilitating the conversion of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) into the country's infrastructure bank.

"There are five projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), and the largest is the railway in Mindanao. We want to see how we can help there. We also want to clarify how we can help closely DBP as an infra bank, putting up an infra fund, or providing advisory [services]," Lynette Ortiz, the CEO and country head of the bank's Global Banking division for the Philippines, said during the meeting.

There are four major rail projects under the Duterte administration's unprecedented infrastructure plan. These include the Manila-Clark commuter railway project that is expected to commence between October and December this year; the proposed Mega Manila Subway, with its first phase running from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Quezon City; the Calamba-Bicol railway; the MRT 7 project from Manila to Bulacan, and the first stage of the Mindanao Railway project connecting the cities of Digos in Davao del Sur and Tagum in Davao del Norte.

"The whole idea is we believe we're so far behind our neighbors on infrastructure, and it just makes sense to spend money on it. But we're not going do it like how they did it in the past. Doing it through PPP (Public-Private Partnership) takes so much time. Our administration is willing to start the projects, and outsource the operations and maintenance later. It will allow people who are averse to take the construction risks to come in," Dominguez said.

The government's massive infrastructure program could lead to a shortage of manpower and skills owing to the large labor demand for the projects.

But Dominguez allayed this fear, saying the government is counting on overseas Filipino workers scattered across the globe to return home and help in implementing these projects.

The Duterte administration's proposed Comprehensive Tax Reform Program will, in turn, help fund this accelerated spending not only on infrastructure, but also on education, health and social protection for the poor.

The CTRP's first package -- House Bill 5636 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act, (Train) will also simplify the tax system and make it more progressive.

nelsonbagaforo@gmail.com
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