Subway works delayed again by 10 months
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2020 - 12:00am

The Metro Manila subway construction has been set back anew by another ten months. This was indicated Monday in a press preview of four of the hundreds of components that will make up the giant tunnel boring machines (TBMs).

In announcing the new construction date, the Dept. of Transport made it look like the works were early. “Tunnel boring machines for MM subway arriving ahead of schedule,” the government’s Philippine News Agency headlined.

In truth startup has been delayed again, based on dates announced several times last year. TBM parts were first said to have arrived in the Philippines in Mar. 2019. Excavation was supposed to commence Oct. 2019, later moved to Nov., then to Jan. 2020, and lastly this Feb. But based on Monday’s show, it’s now Aug. 2020, at the earliest. Meanwhile, work is at standstill.

“The first TBM ... will be delivered in Aug. of this year, about four months ahead of schedule,” PNA said. “In an interview ... Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan said JIM Technology Inc., the Japanese firm contracted to manufacture the six TBMs for the subway, will complete the first TBM by June. ‘Makakapag-umpisa tayo ng tunneling natin within this year,’ Batan said. Manufacturing one TBM was originally projected to take 13 months at the earliest, according to its manufacturer. But after a meeting last Dec. between JIMT and DOTr, the manufacturing time was cut short to 11 months. ‘But still, DOTr Sec. Arthur Tugade asked if it can be further accelerated. So we are now looking at nine to ten months for the first unit,’ Batan added. After its delivery in Aug., he said the TBM will begin tunneling from the East Valenzuela station in Bgy. Ugong, Valenzuela City toward Quirino Highway station.”

The subway project has been marked by moveable dates and shows:

• Feb. 19, 2019, DOTr announced that Tugade and Batan, among others, inspected the TBMs in Japan. Visited, aside from JIMT Tsurumi factory in Yokohama, was Hitachi Zosen’s Sakai Works in Osaka. “Before, people cast doubts and said it is all a dream, but on Feb. 27 we will show them that this is real,” Tugade said then.

• Feb. 27, 2019, DOTr announced groundbreaking in Valenzuela City. No real excavation was made – only a simulation on Mindanao Avenue that snarled traffic not only in Valenzuela but also in Caloocan and Quezon Cities.

• May 30, 2019, PNA quoted DOTr Asst. Sec. for Communications Godess Hope Libiran that the cutter head of the TBM had arrived at Batangas port on Mar. 28, 2019. “Tunneling in-between stations will start by the second quarter of next year. Digging and excavation for stations will start fourth quarter of this year,” Libiran told reporters. PNA quoted Tugade earlier that the project will require excavation of five million cubic meters of soil, equivalent to 2,500 Olympic-size swimming pools. A 6.9-meter diameter TBM weighing over 600 tons will be used.

• July 24, 2019, in a briefing a day after Pres. Rody Duterte’s State of the Nation, Usec for Finance Gary de Guzman said, “We will start actual excavation by the fourth quarter of this year.”

• Sep. 2019, Batan and de Guzman were reported in newspapers as telling budget hearings of the House committee on transport that excavations will start Oct. or Nov.

• Oct. 15, 2019, Batan told the hearing of the Quezon City Council ways and means committee that excavation had been moved to Jan. or Feb. 2020.

• Oct. 16, 2019, Tugade was reported as saying “construction will start later this year,” with partial operation of the first three stations by 2022 and full completion by 2025.

• Dec. 21, 2019, DOTr again simulated earthmoving for the 32-hectare depot in Bgy. Ugong, Valenzuela. Its press release stated that checks were distributed to lot owners, 285 out of 364 supposedly have agreed to sell. But the 1,500-strong Ugong Valenzuela Community and Business Club Inc. denied the figures. Only ten lot owners of 85 to 1,134 sqm were involved, totaling 4,261 sqm. Assuming DOTr paid out P12,000 per sqm for the industrial-commercial lots, it would have issued P51 million in checks. But the land acquired is only 1.33 percent of the 32 hectares eyed for the depot. After the reporters left, the props – a bulldozer and a backhoe – were removed for causing traffic. Another check distribution on Jan. 25 did not materialize.

• Feb. 20, 2020, Batan claimed in a press briefing there’s no basis for the Valenzuelans to protest the expropriation of their 32 hectares over subway financier Japan International Cooperation Agency’s recommendation of only eight hectares. Batan also said works were proceeding as scheduled. That same week the Valenzuelans reiterated to Hotline 8888 their complaint against the suspicious expropriation.

The Valenzuelans oppose eviction from 2.5 km of prime highway frontage for the depot. They wrote Duterte in 2018 that, while they support the subway project, it should not be at the expense of their generations-long investments. “Oligarchic interests” allegedly are riding on the government’s power of eminent domain to acquire their prime lots. Two abandoned factory lots and an undeveloped homestead can serve as alternatives.

In QC Councilors Victor Ferrer Jr. and Winston Castelo said no excavations have begun for the first three stations as of last week. The Council resolved to withhold construction and business permits for the subway unless it is restored to its original alignment along parts of EDSA. They worry about bloated costs and rider endangerment as the new alignment would twice traverse the West Valley Fault Line. They said the expropriations would interminably delay the project beyond Duterte’s term and future administrations would scuttle it.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also said in Dec. the project would become a white elephant due to changes and delays. From P208 billion in 2017 the cost has ballooned to P357 billion, then to P393 billion, in 2018 and 2019. JICA is lending only P52.25 billion.

Transport and civil engineers Rene Santiago and Primitivo Cal doubted the completion of all 15 stations by 2025. The belatedly announced partial operation of the first three stations and right-of-way acquisitions will delay it.

Duterte last Jan. ordered Cabinet secretaries to finish all projects they started by 2022 saying he does not want to leave any unfinished business when he steps down. He said Cabinet members planning to take on new ventures should shelve those if the projects are not doable in the next two years: “All projects must be finished during my term. Do not dream of any ... Ayaw ko mag-iwan ng project na hindi tapos.”

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