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Rough Cuts | Mindanao Railway: Its vanishing horizon

During the early days of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration Mindanao was agog with talks that the long-dreamed of Mindanao Railway System will finally start rolling off the grounds. And there seemed to be no problem in funding the mega infrastructure project because it was to be done under the so-called Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. In fact local as well as national news media carried reports that this and that local and foreign conglomerates have started working on forming new consortiums to undertake the project. There were even reports that certain foreign investors are interested to build solo the Mindanao railway system.

During that time the Davao City Investment and Promotions Center (DCIPC) disclosed that investors from the United States and South Korea have expressed interest in constructing the long-proposed Mindanao-wide railway system with Davao City as the convergence point.

With the thrust of the Duterte administration to address the mega traffic problem in Metro Manila and to prevent it from happening in the rising mega cities in the country’s more developed regions, the Mindanao Railway System is not any more an impossible dream. In fact, with the government’s adoption of the PPP scheme of implementing big ticket infrastructure projects, it is not too ambitious to think of projects that in the near past were next to totally non-doable.

And with Mindanao the very likely investors’ destination after Duterte assumed the Presidency last June 30, 2016, efficient, safe and fast transport of raw and finished goods to areas with strong existing market opportunities now becomes a serious necessity.

Hence, a Mindanao-wide Railway System is seen as the most viable mode of transport that could move people and cargo much faster and lesser in cost.

Of course, with such new mode of transportation, there will be initial negative impact on the present transport system – the public utility buses, passenger utility vans, and public utility jeeps. But with proper consultation and some initial sacrifices, a reconfiguration of routes was seen to eventually address the diminution of income of bus and other public transportation companies.

So, during that time, we were strongly pushing the officials of the different Regional Development Councils (RDCs) in Mindanao to calendar the discussions of the railway proposal and have it studied by technical experts so that this can be jointly recommended for approval by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Board.

We saw during that period the urgent need to “strike while the iron is hot.” That is, that we have a Mindanaoan President who understands the true situation in this Southern Philippine island. We then urged the RDCs that there must be no procrastination whatsoever in taking advantage of this very rare opportunity. Should this be missed, the opportunity may not come back anymore.

Today however, more than half way of the Duterte administration, the Mindanao Railway System project is hardly being talked about by both local and national officials.

Yes, for a while early this year, there were discussions made about the multi-billion infrastructure project. But it was not the project per se but the complaints of some sectors of the population in Davao City that claim they were not consulted by the project consultants during the determination of the route of the railway track.

The leaders of the complaining sectors were saying that lands and houses are right on the vey route of the railway track and they were not informed about it by those commissioned by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to decide of the route of the railway.

But eventually, the issue of the railway track also slowly died down. Whatever was the, or how much, reason, people are clueless. Even the regional offices of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in Mindanao, more particularly in the Davao Region where the Phase 1 of the project is to be started, are maintaining some kind of a deafening silence about its real status.

Why, is the Davaoeno President’s administration with which Mindanaoans are pinning their hope for the realization of the railway system abandoning that dream? Is it opting to have that new transport mode remain at its usual status for the longest time – in the nebula?

From where we are perched, we see the present dynamics relative to the Mindanao Railway System about ready to deny us even in seeing the horizon of the project’s realization within the term of the Mindanaoan President.

What irony would it be if that dream comes into fruition during the term of his successor? Or, would that project be eventually dumped into the drain of forgotten promises like so many others made by politicians during their run for public office?

“Let us to see.”

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