A lawmaker on Wednesday urged the country’s corporate giants—San Miguel Corp. (SMC), Ayala Corp., and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC)—to help fund the revival of the “Bicol Express” or the proposed Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project.
Bicol Saro Partylist Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan said private investors can team up with the government and put up a consortium to bring new life to the Bicol Express project.
In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. renewed his commitment to keep infrastructure spending under his administration at 5 to 6 percent of GDP to guarantee efficient economic growth.
Yamsuan said that the President also stressed in his SONA that “collaboration is the key”, including between the government and the private sector, to realize these ambitious plans for infrastructure development and the other priority programs of his administration.
“The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said that it is currently looking for private investors for some of its rail projects, including the South Long Haul Project that will run all the way to Bicol.
This project has long been proven viable for private investors considering that some of our corporate giants have long expressed interest in reviving the long-idle Bicol Express,” said Yamsuan, who is also the vice-chairperson of the Committee on Bicol Affairs and Economic Development in the House of Representatives.
He recalled that under past administrations, at least three big private firms have confirmed their interest in reviving the Bicol Express through a public-private partnership scheme.
SMC, Ayala, and MPIC have expressed interest in bidding for the Bicol Express project way back in 2015, Yamsuan recalled. However, the plan was stalled because MPIC was concerned over the timing of the bidding for the project, which at that time was less than a year before the late President Benigno Aquino III was to step down from office.
Yamsuan said that with private investors earlier being able to put up a consortium and present an unsolicited proposal to rehabilitate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the same could be done with the modernization of the Bicol Express.
Estimated to cost P142 billion, the first package of the Bicol Express under the PNR’s South Long Haul Project connects Metro Manila to Bicol and is expected to reduce travel time between the two points from the current 14 to 18 hours to just 4 to 6 hours.
It is among the big-ticket rail projects included in the list of priority infrastructure projects under House Bill 8078, which provides for a 30-year national infrastructure program for 2023 up to 2052. The bill was approved on third and final reading last May.
Marcos has also included the Bicol Express project in the list of 194 infrastructure projects under his administration’s P8.3 trillion “Build Better More” (BBM) program, which he said in his SONA is “currently in progress and being vigorously implemented.” He has instructed the DOTr to renegotiate the loan agreement with China, which had previously agreed to fund the Bicol Express project.
The first package of the Bicol Express project was previously awarded to the joint venture of China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co. Ltd. by the administration of former President Duterte.
However, in July 2022, the loan agreement for the project was considered “withdrawn” after the Chinese government failed to act on the funding requests by the Duterte administration, according to the DOTr.
Image credits: www.pna.gov.ph