Subway works at standstill since realigned to fault line

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Work on the Metro Manila subway is at standstill. Tunneling, promised to Congress by Oct., then moved to Nov., then to Jan., and lately to Feb., has yet to begin. The Dept. of Transport spent millions of pesos during the Christmas rush to simulate earthmovings. When the TV news crews left at noon, the props – a bulldozer and a backhoe – were removed because snarling traffic. It was all for show, to look busy in the eyes of Malacañang, invitees said.

Pace stalled when the rail was realigned, originally on a portion of EDSA, now at Katipunan, Quezon City, onto Taguig. The underground train would twice traverse the West Valley Fault Line that seismologists warn is due to shake – “The Big One”, for which Manilans regularly are drilled. The realignment has bloated the budget from P208 billion in 2017 to P357 billion in 2018, and rising. Basic plans have yet to be submitted to seven city halls, as bases for consultations with constituents and construction permits. The P357 billion is half the yearly budget for all transport infrastructure projects – air and seaports, trains and integrated land terminals.

Other changes delayed the much-awaited startup. In Valenzuela, north side of the capital region, DOTr wants to expropriate 32 hectares for a depot, when only eight was recommended by Japanese specialists. Commercial-industrial lot owners oppose eviction from 2.5 km of prime highway frontage in Barangay Ugong. Two abandoned lots and an idle home site in the adjacent area are cheaper alternatives. No need for government to spend billions of pesos to acquire and demolish their factories, offices, chapels, hospitals, restaurants and leisure resorts.

Last Dec. 21 DOTr staged the issuance of some P51 million in checks to ten “compliant” lot owners of 85 to 1,134 sqm. But the total land area paid for, 4,261 sqm, was only 13.3 percent of DOTr’s desired 32 hectares. “It was an expensive show, a waste of government funds,” witnesses said. DOTr claimed that 285 of 350 lot owners, 80 percent, had agreed to sell. Yet no work has resumed since then. Handout of checks to 25 more lot owners did not come about on Jan. 25. It is reminiscent of the costly 2005 expropriation of land for the LRT-1 extension to Cavite, yet never used because of realignment that also delayed it by seven years.

In Parañaque, south side, home and shop owners resist a belatedly announced “Bicutan station.” Nearly a kilometer along the main road and 25 to 70 meters into subdivisions will be eaten up. Yet three government and one abandoned lot nearby can be used instead. They want DOTr to stick to its declaration to use government lands, to avoid dislocations. The policy of Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is partially financing the subway, is to minimize economic, social, and environment disruption.

Yesterday USec for Rails Timothy Batan summoned residents of one of five affected subdivisions to present “modified plans.” The Bicutan station will be merged with North-South Commuter Rail (Tutuban-Calamba). Still private lots will be encroached. Since Sep. the Parañaque City Council has been awaiting the geo-technical studies, plus ground shakes, noise decibels, river pollution and fumes that subway tunneling and operation would cause. The Local Government Code requires public hearings before any dislocation. Yet DOTr reps already have red-marked lots and structures for expropriation, including a church.

The Valenzuelans and Parañaquenos separately have written President Rody Duterte about enthusiasm for the subway. But they complained against needless eviction from titled private lands and sturdy buildings. Even if paid prevailing market rates, they would be unable to afford to buy and build anew in relocations. Generations-long investments would fritter away to the hasty, haphazard realignment.

Both sides aver that “oligarchic interests” are after their prime lots. Thus, the expanded land areas that transport officials want to acquire. Supposedly “big businessmen” are riding on government expropriation to get hold of extra land for commercial malls and condos. Proof of this is a March 25, 2018 article in the government’s Philippine Information Agency website entitled “Gov’t Eyes Commercial Development of Metro Subway Stations to Help Pay Off JICA Loan for Project” (see https://pia.gov.ph/news/articles/1006213), By law expropriations are only for public, never for mixed or commercial, purpose. (Duterte and aides have been denouncing state concessions to “oligarchs.” Exemplified is a long-term, low-rate lease of University of the Philippines prime land in Diliman, Quezon City, as a “techno-hub.”)

Quezon City councilors are fighting the disturbance of six quiet residential villages along the Katipunan realignment. The EDSA route will share six of 13 fully developed stations of the MRT-3 surface rail. With no feeder jitney or bus rides on Katipunan, subway riders would need to walk hundreds of meters to EDSA and Aurora Avenues. Batan also has yet to give the QC Council the justification for the realignment and concomitant redesigns, requested in Oct.

Complicating matters, DOTr wants to operate the first three stations in QC before Duterte’s term ends in June 2022. Rail and civil engineers say that would further drive up costs, if not delay or doom the 12 remaining stations in Pasig, Makati, Taguig, and Pasay cities.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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