DOTr execs: Mindanao Railway project ‘not derailed’

DOTr execs: Mindanao Railway project ânot derailedâ
In this March 2018 file photo, Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan inspects the Metro Rail Transit with DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade
DOTr / Release

MANILLA, Philippines —Two Transportation officials on Saturday disputed allegations that the Mindanao Railway project has been derailed by “higher officials.”

In a lengthy press release, Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan, and Director for Communications Goddes Hope Libiran refuted the allegations made by Transportation Assistant Secretary Mark Tolentino that he was kept from speaking about the Mindanao Railway project.

Batan clarified that Tolentino was only asked to postpone his press conference to keep from preempting the high-level discussions on the best strategy to implement the railway project. He added that Assistant Secretary Tolentino was told why he was asked to postpone his press briefing but that he refused to listen.

"I told him, and I quote: Just to be clear, all I'm saying is for the [press conference] to be postponed until after our strategy is firmed up based on the upcoming meeting of [Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua] and [Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade]. Let us please give deference to our principal, and not preempt him with a presscon that will likely raise issues that we know will be the subject of upcoming principals' discussions," Batan said in a release.

Last Friday, Tolentino held a press conference and claimed that higher officials of the DOTr derailed the Mindanao Railway project to borrow funds from a foreign company despite having a P36-billion budget.

Tolentino also alleged he was being stopped from speaking.

"I was being stopped to speak I don't know why... I am authorized to talk... They say I am an unauthorized... I have a Special Order... Is there a sense to stop me? What’s their basis to stop me?” Tolentino said in mixed Filipino.

“Undersecretary Batan said I should stop speaking, I don’t know what his excuse is,” he added.

Batan dismissed Tolentino's move to hold a press briefing as a miscommunication stemming from his refusal to understand the issue.

The undersecretary also explained that “the ongoing multi-agency and government-to-government discussions are aimed at evaluating whether to finance Phase 1 of Mindanao Railway with Official Development Assistance (ODA) from China.” He said these discussion involve economic managers and the governments of the Philippines and China.

Batan said that there is a concern that if the first phase is not implemented by China, it would be more difficult to get China’s support for the much longer future phases of the Mindanao Railway project. He stressed that the government cannot afford to be short-sighted since the objective is to complete 1,500 kilometers of railways.

“The discussions are likely to be completed by next week, but apparently that's too long for Assistant Secretary Tolentino to wait,” Batan said.

“These talks are not being hidden since it involves not only the DOTr management but also all the agencies working on the Build, Build, Build program of President Rodrigo Duterte. We just want to iron out the strategy of the Mindanao Railway project so we instructed Tolentino to postpone his presscon,” he added in Filipino.

DOTr Director for Communications Libiran also backed Batan saying Tolentino’s press briefing was “unauthorized.” She questioned Tolentino’s claim that he has a Special Order authorizing him to speak on the railway project.

Libiran said that Tugade issued a Memorandum setting a Media Affairs Protocol, which requires the endorsement of the concerned undersecretary, the director for communications, and the secretary before press conferences can be called.

 “Assistant Secretary Mark Tolentino's presscon yesterday was not only unauthorized pursuant to the DOTr media affairs protocol—it was held in defiance of clear, repeated, and explained instructions coming from me, Undersecretary Batan, and, most importantly, Secretary Tugade,” Libiran said.

DOTr said in the press release that “the timeline for Mindanao Railway was actually compromised because of a misinformed document that Tolentino issued in April 2018, which led to confusion and delay in the evaluation by the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) of a DOTr request."

It said that the confusion has since been clarified, and DOTr and GPPB are catching up to close the delay that Tolentino allegedly caused.

“I assure the public that we, at the DOTr, under the leadership of Secretary Tugade, will not let anything derail the Mindanao Railway Project. We treat this as a priority project. Our brothers and sisters in Mindanao deserve the best, and we will deliver it to them, as promised by President Duterte,” Batan said.

The project is eyed to be completed by 2021. —Rosette Adel




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