By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES will wait until December for the Chinese government to make a decision on a P142-billion loan to finance the South Long-Haul project, the Department of Transportation said on Tuesday.

“As per the instructions of the DoF (Department of Finance), we are still to await the reply of the Chinese government until end of December,” Transportation Assistant Secretary Jorjette B. Aquino told the House flagship programs and projects committee.

The Duterte government in February 2022 awarded to China Railway Design Corp. a contract to build the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long-Haul project. State-owned Export-Import Bank of China however, has not confirmed whether it will approve the loan.

The PNR south-long haul project has yet to receive a loan for the civil works accompanying the project, Ms. Aquino told congressmen.

“We came as far as receiving the short list (of contractors) from the Chinese government to having it bid out and awarding the said contract to a general contractor. However, we have not received the confirmation of the loan… from the Chinese government,” she said.

If the Chinese loan does not go ahead, the department’s planning committee is considering a public-private partnership or tapping official development assistance (ODA) from other countries, Ms. Aquino added.

Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista last week said that the government plans to terminate its deal with a Chinese consortium to construct the project.

The PNR south long-haul project consists of a 560-kilometer rail line that will connect Metro Manila to Southern Luzon. It has been earmarked P3 billion worth of funding in the 2024 national budget.

Rail travelers to and from Bicol are expected to experience a reduction in their trip duration to four hours from the current 12.

Mr. Bautista has said the government is considering tapping ODA from Japan, South Korea, or India to fund three major railway projects — the South Long-Haul, the Mindanao Railway, and the Subic-Clark Railway — to replace Chinese funding.

He said the Philippines could also tap the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency for funding.

“The instructions from DoF are to look for another funding source on the Subic-Clark railway,” Ms. Aquino told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the committee meeting. “It’s officially withdrawn as per the Nov. 8 letter by the DoF to the Chinese government.”

The Subic-Clark railway consists of a 71-kilometer rail line connecting the Port of Subic in Zambales to Clark, the site of an international airport.