THE EXPORT-IMPORT Bank of China  (China Eximbank) has yet to confirm whether it would approve a P142-billion loan for the Philippines’ Bicol railway project, Transportation officials told congressmen on Monday.

The Department of Transportation and Finance department met with Chinese Embassy officials in Manila earlier this year to discuss the loan, Transportation Undersecretary Cesar B. Chavez told the House committee on appropriations. “We were given no clear direction on this.”

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. The state-owned bank, however, had yet to confirm whether it would approve the loan.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened after the Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannons to block Manila’s attempt to deliver food and other supplies to a grounded ship at Second Thomas Shoal on Aug. 5.

The government has a contract with China Railway for a project management consultancy worth P14 billion, Mr. Chavez said. “But there’s no contract and loan approved or granted to the Philippine government from China.”

The Philippines has spent almost P2 billion for the project management consultancy with the Chinese state company, he added.

Former Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III withdrew the Philippines’ loan application last year due to China Eximbank’s inaction.

The Transportation department would consult the National Economic and Development Authority by yearend on whether the loan should proceed.

If the loan does not proceed, the Philippines could get funding for the rail project through public-private partnerships or loans from the Asian Development Bank or Japan International Cooperation Agency, Mr. Chavez said.

The PNR South Long-Haul project was allotted a P3.1-billion budget for next year. Construction is expected to finish next year, with operations expected to begin in 2025.

Also called the PNR Bicol, the project is expected to cut travel time from Manila to Bicol province to four from 12 hours. The 368-kilometer rail will run from Calamba, Laguna in Central Luzon to Daraga, Albay — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz