THE Metro Pacific group said it remains interested in investing in the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), after the government said earlier this month that it wants the private sector to come in for the operations and maintenance (O&M) of the train line.

Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan told reporters last week the company still wants to be part of the Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) initiatives to improve the train system, noting its unsolicited proposal is “still there with the government.”

“I’m glad (Transportation) Secretary (Arthur P.) Tugade has mandated Sumitomo to start the rehab work for MRT-3. That’s much-needed. It’s a big step for Sec. Tugade,” he said, referring to the Japanese contractor tapped by the DoTr to rehabilitate the railway system.

Asked if the group remains keen to participate in the MRT-3’s eventual O&M, Mr. Pangilinan said, “Yes… We wait for their direction.”

MPIC, together with the Ayala Group and Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines) Pte. Ltd., submitted in 2017 a P20-billion unsolicited proposal to take over the MRT-3 operations over a 30- to 32-year period.

The group was given original proponent status by the DoTr in 2017, after which the proposal was supposed to be turned over to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for further evaluation.

But progress was stalled at the DoTr level due to the government’s decision to tap Japanese contractors Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (Sumitomo-MHI) for the rehabilitation of the MRT-3. The two parties signed the P16.985-billion, 43-month contract last year.

MPIC President and Chief Executive Officer Jose Ma. K. Lim said in January that the group may have to “reconfigure (its) proposal as an O&M” following the entry of Sumitomo-MHI.

Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John R. Batan said earlier this month that MPIC’s unsolicited proposal for the MRT-3 is still undergoing review, noting there are “legal issues” that need to be resolved first. He was referring to the ongoing arbitration case in Singapore between the Philippine government and MRT-3 contractor Metro Rail Transit Corp. over delayed equity rental payments.

MPIC is one of three key Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being Philex Mining Corp. and PLDT, Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Denise A. Valdez