DAVAO City First District Representative Paolo Duterte is seeking to investigate the Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), particularly in the purchase of right-of-way and other related concerns.

Duterte, along with Anti-Crime and Terrorism through Community Involvement and Support (ACT-CIS) Representative Eric Yap, filed House Resolution (HR) 2321, which directs to investigate in aid of legislation the MRP project on the manner of its acquisition of right of way, expropriation of affected properties, and other related matters.

The resolution aims "to promote transparency, fairness, and equity for all stakeholders, and for other purposes."

"It has come to our attention through various reports from the local communities affected that there are variations in the offers for acquisition of right-of-way or expropriation of the private properties by the DOTr and/or its contractors, sub-contractors, or other service providers," the lawmakers said in HR 2321.

They added, "these variations in offers have substantial discrepancies from the actual Zonal Value or Fair Market Value of the properties affected."

Among the properties include those located in Barangays New Visayas and Datu Abdul Dadia, both in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.

The lawmakers also said the House inquiry will also revisit existing laws and rules on the right-of-way acquisition procedures and expropriation of private properties affected by government works, infrastructure, and other projects.

This would also "strengthen the same or come up with new and better mechanisms to ensure that all affected stakeholders, whether from the public or private sector, are adequately compensated and protected by applicable laws and rules."

According to the resolution, MRP is the first railway system outside Luzon, which covers 1,530-kilometer circumferential and spur rail lines that will connect Davao Region, Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City and Zamboanga.

The Phase 1 of the MRP, which is the Tagum-Davao-Digos (TDD) segment, is a 105-kilometer line that is expected to reduce travel time from Davao del Norte to Davao del Sur from 3.5 hours to just 1.3 hours. It will have eight stations: Tagum, Carmen, Panabo, Mudiang, Davao Terminal, Toril, Sta. Cruz and Digos.

SunStar Davao reached out to DOTr Assistant Secretary for Mindanao Cluster Project Implementation Eymard Eje for comments on the HR, but he has not responded as of writing.

DOTR recently signed the project’s TDD segment contract with its Project Management Consultant on October 20, 2021.

DOTr Secretary Art Tugade said in his speech during the contract signing that the signing of the Project Management Consultant contract starts the government’s commitment to finally deliver the railway project after decades-long delay of construction.

"Since more than four years ago, when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, people were already expecting and people were already asking the question: 'Where is the Mindanao Railway [project]?' Today, we are saying that with the signing of the agreement, it is about to be born and it is about to be triggered into reality," Tugade said.

He added that the signing of the contract does not signify the end of their office's commitment to expediting the project.

The official also reiterated that the partial operation of the TDD segment would commence in March 2022.

The MRP is one of the big-ticket infrastructure projects of the Duterte administration under the Build, Build, Build program. It is designed to help improve inter-island connectivity and boost economic development in Mindanao.