P36B Mindanao railway in disarray as China moves to monopolize Duterte dream project
President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to build a pan-Mindanao railway in his home region is in disarray following a revelation by a rogue executive from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) that China was moving to monopolize the project.
In a press conference Friday, Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary for Railways Mark Tolentino claimed that ther was mounting pressure from inside the DOTr to bankroll the P36.4 billion project cost for phase I of the 2,00-kilometer railway solely from a foreign creditor or Official Development Assistance (ODA).
“Bakit pa tayo uutang kung may budget na P36 billion for Mindanao? May mga tao po dito sa DOTr na gusto nilang lahat utangin…buong Mindanao i-loan” said Tolentino.
“Puwedeng bigyan ng priority ang mga foreigner lalo na yung nagbigay ng utang sa atin,” he added.
Tolentino explained that the project was scheduled to start this second quarter using funding from the 2018 General Appropriations Act. The bidding is set this June with the awarding of the contract in November.
But he said certain forces from the DOTr have moved to delay so that they could have their favored creditor and contractor to take over the project.
In a later interview with DZMM, Tolentino identified the favor lender and contractor as China.
Although ODA loans carry low interest rates and long payment terms, the lending country earns by demanding that its contractors, suppliers, and workers be tapped for the project.
Tolentino identified Transportation Undersecretary Timothy John Batan as part of the group whcih wanted to give the project to China.
In a press statement, Batan explained why he wanted to delay the project: “Since China expressed intent to finance the future phases of Mindanao Railway, Batan said there was a concern that if Phase 1 was not implemented by China, it will be more difficult to get China’s support for the much longer future phases of the Mindanao Railway Project.”
“I told him, and I quote: Just to be clear, all I’m saying is for the press con to be postponed until after our strategy is firmed up based on the upcoming meeting of Ambassador Zhao and SoTr [Secretary of Transportation]. Let us please give deference to our principal, and not preempt him with a press con that will likely raise issues that we know will be the subject of upcoming principals’ discussions,” Batan said.
The ongoing multi-agency and government-to-government discussions are aimed at evaluating whether to finance Phase 1 of Mindanao Railway with Official Development Assistance (ODA) from China.