Can Phl match Indonesia’s rail resolve?

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The busiest of President Marcos’ Cabinet secretaries, especially these days, is perhaps Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista.

Bautista or Sec. Jimmy and his team just recently concluded the historic privatization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which is roughly 30 years in the making.

He is truly a miracle worker and I told him so when I congratulated him a few days ago for the successful bidding of the contract for the NAIA upgrade, touted as the largest public-private partnership of the Marcos administration.

I was not exaggerating. Fixing our infrastructure and transport woes truly entails miracles.

Sec. Jimmy once said the status quo is unacceptable. He was referring to the terrible traffic in Metro Manila, caused largely by the lack of a more efficient transportation system and the lack of mobility elsewhere in the country because of inefficient transport.

On Tuesday afternoon, in between deadlines, I spent some 20 minutes or so curling my hair using an electronic curler as I prepared for an event that evening. By the time I reached the event, however – after an hour of being stuck in traffic – the soft waves I created in my hair had disappeared.

But never mind my lost curls. It’s really the fact that we’re wasting so much time stuck in our daily long drives and tough commutes that makes it so bad.

Which is why the next stop for our transport improvement journey must really be rails, particularly the Metro Manila Subway, the Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) and the North South Commuter Railway (NSCR) projects.

I am excited about the subway. In other countries, I’ve seen how subway systems have brought people to places and kept the roads free from monstrous traffic jams.

The subway project is moving. In fact, according to news reports, Meralco is investing P280 million to power up the subway.

Outside Metro Manila, we are counting on the two railway projects, the MRP and NSCR, to improve mobility.

I recently wrote about these two big projects. It’s good that the NSCR appears to be moving, having solved the funding problems that derailed the project in the past. This will be a game changer.

Last we heard, DOTr Undersecretary for Rail Jeremy Regino announced that so-called bored pile works have begun. These bored piles are the huge pieces of steel that are buried vertically into the ground using heavy equipment.

They will serve as the foundation of certain portions of the railway system of the NSCR. Usec. Regino said this is an “important milestone.”

This tells the public that, finally, a high-speed train plying the Calamba-to-Clark route will soon be a reality.

Fingers crossed, the other big-ticket rail project, the MRP, will also be able to get the needed financial muscle after the Marcos administration decided not to pursue funding from China.

Sec. Jimmy and his rail transportation team are in a position to make the near-impossible happen.


I shared with you my wonderful experience of riding the high-speed Whoosh train in Indonesia, which connects Jakarta with Bandung, two important Indonesian centers of government and business.

The train moves at 350 kilometers per hour, making it the fastest train in southeast Asia, cutting travel time from Jakarta to Bandung from what used to be three hours to just 45 minutes.


The Whoosh is a source of Indonesian pride. But even that flagship project of Indonesia with China was not without problems.

Just like our NSCR, it was hounded by serious funding problems and right-of-way (ROW) issues, particularly land disputes.

In fact, the railway was originally scheduled to open in 2019 but was delayed due to the problems and the pandemic, according to local reports.

But Indonesian President Joko Widodo was determined to push through with the project.

As such, after some delays, Whoosh started commercial operations in October last year.

The rest, as they say, is history. It has so far served some two million passengers. It is a concrete example that a government can build projects of this magnitude if it has the firm determination and resolve to do so.

Like in Indonesia, there will be challenges for sure, which Sec. Jimmy and his rail transportation team will face as they complete the ROW requirements for our rail projects.

In the case of the NSCR, informal settler communities along the tracks may put up some resistance.

We are confident they can hurdle these.

I believe that President Marcos, if only to match his father’s legacy of building big-ticket infrastructure projects such as the San Juanico Bridge, has the same resolve.

We’ve seen that in the successful completion of the NAIA privatization.

In the case of the NSCR, the good news is that funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been sealed.

Usec. Regino has also made sure there are resettlement areas for informal settlers living along the railroad where the NSCR will be built. Furthermore, site offices have started to be put in place and, as I mentioned, work for the bored piles has started.

For sure, we can learn from our Indonesian neighbors. With the same resolve the Indonesian government tapped, we, too, can make it happen.

As I said, miracles happen and with Sec. Jimmy at the helm of DOTr and with Usec. Jeremy as his rail man, I am hopeful that we can also build world-class train systems here for Filipinos to experience and enjoy.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter  @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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