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EDITORIAL - No ease in doing business

Like the morass several giant foreign companies have found themselves in while trying to do business in the Philippines, this one will serve as a cautionary tale for foreign and local investors alike.

It took seven years for competing private parties to reach an agreement with the government on the construction of a single train station. When a memorandum of agreement was finally signed last January by four of the nation’s business titans, it was announced that come April 2019, commuters would finally begin enjoying the use of a common station linking the three mass light rail transit systems in Metro Manila.

Unfortunately, that target date for commercial operation of the common station, to be built between SM North EDSA and Ayala Malls’ TriNoma in Quezon City, may prove optimistic.

Disputes over the location of the common station, naming rights and legal action derailed the start of the project. The long-running dispute has also held back construction of the Metro Rail Transit 7 as well as the Light Rail Transit 1 Cavite Extension, a public-private partnership project.

This time, after all the private interests have finally reached a landmark agreement with the Department of Transportation, the House of Representatives wants a say. The House committee on transportation chaired by Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento wants the private investors to shoulder the entire cost of the project. Lawmakers said this would save the government the P2.8 billion the DOTr had committed as its share in setting up the common station.

Sarmiento described the proposal as a “win-win solution.” But picking up a P2.8-billion tab doesn’t look like a win-win situation for those who will be made to fork out the amount after an agreement has already been signed. Taxpayers will welcome P2.8 billion in savings for the government. But if the government wanted the private sector to shoulder the entire project cost, this should have been stipulated right from the start, or at least before the agreement was signed.

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The Philippines is notorious enough for its failure to enforce the sanctity of contracts, and for the unpredictability of business and economic policies. We can’t build one decent track of railway or one airport terminal and now one common train station without the project becoming bogged down in a corruption scandal, red tape, legal entanglement and politics.

For the Metro Manila commuter, already burdened by the acute inadequacy of the mass transport system, this latest snag in the construction of a common train station means a longer wait for better facilities.

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