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Gov’t still hopeful on big infra projects

Potential legal issues hound NLEx-SLEx connector


07:31 PM September 1st, 2013

By: Doris C. Dumlao, September 1st, 2013 07:31 PM

President Benigno Aquino III Malacañang Photo Bureau(file)

President Aquino sees too many stumbling blocks to the much-needed connector roads that will link the North and South Luzon expressways but remains hopeful that the two alignments separately espoused by San Miguel Corp. and Metro Pacific Investment Corp. will be completed within his term.

Mr. Aquino also expects some other infrastructure projects, including the rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals and other toll roads, to be completed before he steps down from office in 2016.

Commenting on the North-South Luzon connector road projects, he said in a roundtable with the Inquirer staff last week: “To proceed with them, there are too many potential legal issues.” But he added that both projects of SMC and MPIC would be pursued.

“I have to say yes,” when asked whether completion would be doable within his term as earlier announced, but added he was “hesitant to say yes.”

Based on the latest meeting of the technical group working on the projects, Mr. Aquino said there seemed to be an agreement on all positions. The final meeting to address the remaining concerns was scheduled last Friday.

The President also mentioned the connector road project during a forum with the Asia News Network hosted by the Inquirer last week, when a Thai journalist asked what he would do for the Philippines—now Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy—if he were to stay in office for 10 years.

The President said he did not want to stay for 10 years as he would like to enjoy the remainder of his life after 2016, but he acknowledged that more infrastructure building was needed.

“We’ve been criticized for lack of substantial infrastructure projects. Unfortunately we have been inheritors of certain laws (whose) purpose is not to serve the general good,” he said. “For example, we have a major highway in the north and south. In the 70s, they planned to connect North and South Expressways so we don’t have go go through the congestion of Metro Manila area. Today it’s still not a reality: The laws that govern the franchises for this road were designed to benefit the crony.”

He said these laws were still existing and the government would have to conform to these particular laws if the country were to have such infrastructure. “That’s an unfortunate stumbling block. We’re trying to navigate this very tricky process so that the project will stand scrutiny by anybody and everybody,” he said.

“Now there’s of course the competing pressure: P2.4 billion in estimated losses everyday due to the traffic and congestion that happens in Metro Manila. Hence, if we have this connector road north to the south, that will bypass it,” he said, adding that the resulting decongestion would improve the quality of life in Metro Manila and translate the P2.4-billion losses into new opportunities.

During the succeeding roundtable with the Inquirer staff, Mr. Aquino said he was referring to two decrees, one of which granted the franchise to Construction Development of the Philippines (CDCP) and the other transferred that franchise to Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC).

Taking about the connector road, he said PNCC had the franchise to extend everything and whenever a new alignment would be added, this renewed the franchise by another 30 years in a “walang katapusan” (neverending) cycle. As such, the proponents of the connector road would have to enter into a joint-venture deal with PNCC to comply.

He said there would be a need to go to Congress to repeal these laws, which would mean taking around a year to get a new legislation if it were to be certified as an “urgent” bill.

Meanwhile, Mr. Aquino said Naia Terminal 3 would be “finally 100 percent” operational by next year while the upgrade of Terminal 1—the oldest among Naia’s three terminals—would be completed by December next year. The upgrades of these terminals were meant to be finished before the Philippines’ hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2015.

He also said the four-kilometer Daang Hari would also be among the projects to be completed during this term.

Daang Hari is a major arterial road connecting the rapidly growing towns of Imus, Dasmariñas and Bacoor in Cavite to Metro Manila via the SLEx. This road provides strategic access to Cavite, much-needed relief to traffic in the congested Alabang-Zapote Road and Commerce Avenue.

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