By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, Senior Reporter

CONSTRUCTION of the Philippines’ first subway line is expected to start later this year, with authorities hoping to alleviate Manila’s road congestion, which is estimated by Japan’s aid agency to cost the economy P3.5 billion daily.

Susumu Ito, chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the Philippines, made the estimate, which is substantially higher than the P2.4 billion daily given by a 2014 study. Metro Manila’s population is about 13 million.

“As you can see, the traffic cost is P3.5 billion a day in Metro Manila. If we do nothing, it will become P5.4 billion a day in 2035, but with Build, Build, Build, it can be reduced to P3 billion a day,” Mr. Ito said during the 36th Annual Joint Meeting of the Philippines-Japan Economic Coordinating Committee held yesterday at the New World Hotel in Makati City.

“JICA is supporting the Build, Build, Build program fully. It is a must.”

Economic cost of traffic in Metro Manila by BusinessWorld

Based on JICA estimates, road usage in Metro Manila was 13.4 million trips per day in 2017. Without any infrastructure interventions, this will rise to 16.1 million daily trips by 2035, which will come with a cost to the economy of P5.4 billion.

Mr. Ito also pointed out road congestion issues in the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite, and a Mega Manila population estimate of which over 38 million people by 2035.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the government wants to fast-track the rollout of the Metro Manila Subway Project, which will be funded through official development assistance from Japan.

Mr. Pernia said the government wants to break ground for the 25-kilometer railway by the third quarter with partial operations up by late 2021 or 2022, following the Japan-Philippines meeting held Feb. 12 in Cebu.

However, JICA’s Mr. Ito said authorities are “still discussing” project timelines, with the two nations hoping to sign the first tranche of the loan deal next month.

The subway line runs from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to the site of the former Food Terminal, Inc. in Taguig City. Mr. Ito said completion is targeted by 2025.

Mr. Pernia said the government will be staging a job fair in the Middle East within the quarter to attract Filipino technical workers home to boost the labor pool for infrastructure projects.

“What we’re planning — in fact it is already scheduled — is we will hold a job fair in the Middle East so that we can attract back our skilled technical workers to come back and work here,” Mr. Pernia said during his keynote speech.

“We’ll make sure that the salary differential between what they are getting in overseas workplaces and here is minimal or maybe even much (more than) whatever they’re getting.”

Pressed further, Mr. Pernia said the job fair will likely be held by “late March.”

Mr. Pernia said the government will be spending P8.13 trillion for 75 big-ticket infrastructure projects until 2022, which are expected to improve mass transport and inter-island connectivity.

Separately, President Rodrigo R. Duterte promised that Japan’s projects in the Philippines will be free from red tape, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said.

“[The President] pledged his commitment to ensure that Japan projects will receive attention and will be free from bureaucratic delays whether the projects are government-to-government or business-to-business,” Mr. Roque said in a televised press briefing at Sara Municipal Hall in Iloilo on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Mr. Duterte met with Philippine and Japanese conglomerates at Malacañan Palace on Wednesday.

At the meeting, according to Mr. Roque, “the President thanked Japan for its wholehearted support for his government programs, and for the humanitarian assistance it has extended to the Filipino people.”

In a statement from the Presidential Communications Office sent late Wednesday, the Palace said Mr. Duterte likewise met with the “representatives of the Philippine-Japan Economic Cooperation (PHILJEC) to tackle infrastructure programs.”

According to the Palace, “PHILJEC aims to promote, strengthen and expand trade, economic, scientific technological advancements, exchange assistance to business endeavors in both the Philippines and Japan.”

“It was designed to be a forum for private sector dialogue and the exchange of ideas geared towards the enhancement of Philippines-Japan relations.”

Moreover, in their meeting with the President, the Philippine conglomerates “discussed competitiveness and macroeconomic fundamentals, infrastructure and innovation matters,” the Palace said.

Present during the meeting were Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda, Marubeni Corp. Chairman Teruo Asada, Mitsubishi Corp. Chairman Ken Kobayashi, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) International Division Manager Masazumi Nishizawa, and Japan Airlines Chairman Masaru Onishi.

Also present were JCCI Secretary General Hidekazu Oshita, PHILJEC outgoing Chairman Aniceto Saludo, PHILJEC incoming Chairman Gerard Sanvictores, ANA Holdings Senior Vice-President Koji Shibata, and Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines (JCCIPI) President Hiroshi Shiraishi.

Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea joined Mr. Duterte during the meeting. — with Arjay L. Balinbin