THE chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said the Philippines cannot afford to wait for Chinese Official Development Assistance (ODA) to finance three railway projects.
The ODA from China has been eyed to bankroll the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long-Haul Project, the Mindanao Railway Project and the Subic-Clark Railway Project.
However, Neda Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the government has yet to receive any commitment from the Chinese government regarding the status of Beijing’s pledge. Manila has not even received documents pertaining to these ODA, added Balisacan.
“Those projects that were initially committed for funding by the Chinese government are not moving. We cannot wait forever,” Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of a briefing last Thursday on the National Income Accounts. “We have to find ways to get those projects completed at the soonest.”
The NEDA chief also emphasized that the Philippines “cannot delay the completion of these projects” because of the economic impact these projects can contribute to Mindanao or the Bicol region, home to a number of poor Filipinos.
Balisacan said these railways can spur regional development in the countryside that would be crucial not just in economic growth but also for poverty reduction.
Based on the 2021 poverty statistics data, the poverty incidence among the population in the Bicol region was at 29.3 percent while places in Mindanao such as Northern Mindanao and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) were at 26.1 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively.
“We want a commitment. Of course, when they say they will fund (these projects), (they have to) give us the time frame. Kailan? [But when?] Kung hindi ka [If they can’t] mag-deliver, then we can look now for (another) partner,” Balisacan said.
“It’s in the best interest of the government and the Filipino people. We look, of course, at the cost, we look at the time frame,” he added.
Balisacan also stressed that the country had other bilateral and multilateral options to finance these projects.
The PNR South Long-Haul Project is a 560-kilometer rail system consisting of 35 stations. It will run from Manila through Laguna, Quezon and Camarines Sur to Albay, with an extension line in Sorsogon.
The Mindanao Railway Project was originally planned to be constructed in 10 phases, with a total of 2,278 kilometers of track to be built for the system.
Phase 1 was supposed to be partially opened between Panabo and Carmen, Davao del Norte in 2022 and full operations were planned by 2024.
The Subic-Clark Railway Project aimed to transform Central Luzon into the next global destination of industrial investments in the country. It was supposed to begin construction by the first half of 2020.
In terms of development partners, Asian Development Bank (ADB) emerged as the leading provider of ODA in the country in 2022, surpassing Japan which was the country’s top creditor for the preceding seven consecutive years.
The ODA provided by ADB accounts for a 33.47 percent share or $10.85 billion of the active ODA portfolio in 2022. ADB has also taken the lead in terms of new commitments in 2022, with a total of $2.51 billion composed of $2.5 billion for four loans and $10.2 million for seven grants.
Meanwhile, Japan secured the second spot with 30.75 percent worth $9.96 billion, followed by WB with $6.86 billion; China, $0.98 billion; and Korea, $0.91 billion.