By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

GROUNDWORK for the Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) Phase 1 will continue despite budgeting issues, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) said.

“While the budget for MRP was not included by DBM (Department of Budget and Management) in the NEP (National Expenditure Program), and that we are still working on the amendment of our budget, the DoTr has allocation for ROW (right-of-way) acquisition for all its projects including MRP,” Transportation Assistant Secretary for Project Implementation-Mindanao Cluster Eymard D. Eje told BusinessWorld by phone message on Oct. 1.

“The ground activities of the PMO (Project Management Office) will continue to achieve our target,” he added.

The department is aiming to start construction work in April 2022. It hopes to start partial operations (Tagum-Carmen section) in October 2022, followed by full operations (Tagum-Davao-Digos) in October 2023.

“The impasse will not substantially affect the ground activities; but if the (House of Representatives) grants and includes the MRP in the NEP, activities will be much easier,” Mr. Eje said.

The House approved the proposed P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 on Sept. 30. The chamber has formed a “small committee” to collate proposed amendments until Oct. 5 for inclusion in the final version of the budget bill.

“We are now addressing the issue through the House of Representatives so that there will be a budget for MRP. Hopefully, the House can help us amend the budget proposal,” Mr. Eje said.

Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John R. Batan told the Senate Committee on Finance during a budget hearing last week that the DBM did not approve the DoTr’s proposed budget for the implementation of the Mindanao rail project in 2022.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran said the project will need P2 billion next year.

“DoTr awarded the Project Management Consultant (PMC) Contract for the Mindanao Railway Project in August, which will require advance payment and progress payments in 2022. This is why DoTr is requesting that the budget be reinstated for Mindanao rail,” she said in a phone message, referring to the P3.08-billion project management consultancy contract awarded to a consortium composed of China Railway Design Corp. and Guangzhou Wanan Construction Supervision Co., Ltd.

DBM Officer-in-Charge and Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie L. Canda said when asked to comment that the project is “slow moving” and is still in the ROW acquisition phase.

“How will they construct on private property? Also, if DoTr thinks this project is a priority, it could have reallocated an amount for this project,” she said in a phone message to BusinessWorld last week.

The department has yet to receive the shortlist of Chinese bidders for the design-and-build contract of the project.

Demands that the project’s Toril Car Park be moved and concerns over the valuation of the affected properties are among the issues the Mindanao rail project is dealing with.

Clipton J. Solamo, the project manager, has said that the DoTr denied the request to move the MRP Toril Car Park because it would substantially affect the viability of the Toril station.

“Notices of taking” have been issued to 69.90% of affected properties in Tagum, 10.78% in Carmen, 96.69% in Panabo, 90.67% in Davao City, 85.26% in Santa Cruz, and 86.84% in Digos, he said in a recent phone message.