By Getsy Tiglao
Believe it or not, the country’s first subway is fast becoming a reality with the recent approval by economic authorities of the revised plans and scope for this $7-billion infrastructure project of the Duterte administration. Groundbreaking is scheduled for next year.
Skeptics should start believing: This is a government that gets things done. I’m actually surprised at the speed at which current officials are implementing projects. It’s almost like a taskmaster was at their backs, or rather a chief executive who is pushing to do everything in his limited window of six years.
It’s been said that Filipinos are weak in long-term planning and execution. Then this metropolitan subway project – which will take five to seven years to complete – will truly be a test of the Philippine government’s resolve to finally upgrade the mass transportation system in the country.
Last week, the National Economic and Development Authority-Investment Coordination Cabinet Committee approved the higher cost for the subway as they adopted the recommendation of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to extend the subway line from Quezon City up to Parañaque City.
This is a logical and practical move and despite the higher cost it will more than make up for it by the higher passenger volume it can generate. It can now count as potential users the vast number of people without private vehicles who will be going to the international and domestic airport terminals in Parañaque.
The 25-kilometer Mega Manila Subway will have 13 stations. Six will be in Quezon City, including Mindanao Avenue, North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, East Avenue, Anonas, and Katipunan. The others are Ortigas North, Ortigas South, Kalayaan Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Cayetano Boulevard, Food Terminal, Inc., and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Earlier proposals for a subway envisioned one running the length of EDSA, a high-density highway passing through several districts that has become the capital’s main artery. Plans for a city subway with a north-south orientation have existed since the 1970s but have never been taken seriously by previous leaders due to the huge challenges it poses.
First there are the massive logistical and engineering requirements, and second, the high costs of such a major undertaking. But these are the least of it since the vital ingredients are still – like in any great endeavor – guts and vision, which our public officials have not shown since the 1970s. This is changing, of course, as we are seeing the return of a more responsive and strong government.
The Mega Manila Subway will be financed through an Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan, a soft loan with a very low interest rate of 0.1 percent per annum payable in 40 years and a grace period of 12 years. President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to sign the loan agreement during the ASEAN Summit on November 10 this year.
The ODA will be coursed through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Japanese state agency that has for decades assisted the Philippines in its infrastructure requirements. It has completed the required feasibility study for the subway project, just one of many it has done for the Philippines.
Japan has probably been so frustrated with us for so long. All those years of research and planning and helping us map out an infrastructure development plan only to be met with politicking or unnecessary bureaucracy.
We had become notorious for our lack of follow-through of important projects. But this time it’s different as we now have leaders who are determined to get things done and fast. JICA is again updating its Metro Manila infrastructure roadmap in order to complement the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
Local transport and public works officials recently finished their study and inspection of Japan’s famous “shield tunneling technology,” which is the most advanced tunneling system in the world. It uses huge cylinder-shaped machines with blades to dig through soil and at the same time create tunnel walls, hardening it with concrete as it goes.
With Japanese tunneling, all the work is done underground in an automated process. There is minimal disruption to activities above ground which means business and other economic activities can continue as usual.
The subway will be designed to be earthquake and flood-proof – good news for those worried that the Philippines is disaster-prone. But other countries in Asia, including Japan and Thailand, also face typhoons yearly but that didn’t stop them from building subways.
The Duterte government’s gumption to build the subway couldn’t have come at a better time. Metro Manila traffic is becoming worse every day and JICA said that without any infrastructure intervention, traffic costs will increase from P2.4 billion to P6 billion a day by 2030. Think of the huge savings for everyone once the subway is operational.
Five to seven years is not that long in the life of a nation. Other countries in Asia patiently waited for their own subways and train systems to be built, and so can we.
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