By Denise A. Valdez
CONSTRUCTION of the Metro Rail Transit Line 7 (MRT-7) — a project designed to offer more public transport options north of Metro Manila — could face delays on right-of-way questions involving the project’s planned depot in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.
In a July 2 letter of proponent San Miguel Corp. Mass Rail Transit 7, Inc. (SMC MRT7) to Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade that was obtained by BusinessWorld on Monday, the company asked the department for assistance by asking the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file a petition for certiorari, or for a review of the ruling in question issued by a lower court.
The P62.7-billion MRT-7 project — which will run between North Avenue in Quezon City and San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan — has three components, namely: a 22-kilometer rail transit system with 14 stations; a six-lane highway between North Luzon Expressway and a planned Intermodal Transportation Terminal (ITT); and the ITT itself that can accommodate 200 buses at a time. The stations will be located at North Avenue, Quezon City Memorial Circle, University Avenue, Tandang Sora, Don Antonio, Batasan, Manggahan, Doña Carmen, Regalado, Mindanao Avenue, Quirino, Sacred Heart, Tala and San Jose del Monte.
It is a public-private partnership project, with San Miguel Corp. as the government’s private sector partner and Hyundai Rotem-EEI consortium as engineering, procurement and construction contractor.
SMC MRT7 said the project was supposed to acquire 33 hectares of land in Bulacan for the train depot, the ITT and the 14th station but the move was disrupted when the property owner questioned the expropriation in court.
Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 11, to which the case was raffled, issued on Feb. 15 an order granting writ of possession, provided that the government pay the property owner P1,800 per square meter — which at that time was just the new valuation proposed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) district office — rather than the “current and actual BIR zonal valuation” of P200/sq.m.
The new valuation, SMC MRT 7 argued in its letter, caused “the deposit amount” to balloon to P598.905 million from P67.105 million.
In doing so, the court, SMC MRT 7 added, ignored Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10752 — the law “facilitating the acquisition of right-of-way site or location for national government infrastructure projects” — that expropriation amount should be based on the actual BIR zonal value as basis for valuation.
Besides noting that the nearly ninefold increase in expropriation amount “inevitably increased the project cost, thereby causing undue injury to the government and ultimately to the Filipino people”, the company also questioned the “undue haste” with which a new zonal valuation was approved and took effect on May 9, providing basis for a second court order on May 10 upholding the earlier order.
The Department of Transportation (DoTr), which received the May 10 order on June 2, has 60 days from such receipt to file a petition for certiorari with a higher court.
The OSG asked for a 60-day extension on Aug. 1.
Sought for comment, DoTr Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John R. Batan told BusinessWorld on Monday that the MRT-7 cannot operate until the depot is up, “which means that even if all elevated viaduct and stations of MRT-7 are completed, it cannot operate until the depot in SJDM (San Jose del Monte), Bulacan is completed.”
The target date of completion for the MRT-7 is in 2020. Once operational, the new train system is expected to accommodate an estimated 420,000 passengers a day.
“Note that as of June 2018, 45 out of 108 train cars for MRT-7 are already completed and cannot be delivered from Korea due to the non-availability of a depot,” Mr. Batan added.
A common station being built near the corner of EDSA and North Avenue will connect MRT 7 to MRT 3 that runs along EDSA and LRT1.