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Deft handling of train station row

/ 12:27 AM January 23, 2017

After eight long years, the impasse over the site of the common train station for Light Rail Transit 1 and Metro Rail Transit in Quezon City has been resolved.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) was able to convince the business conglomerates involved in the project—Ayala Corp., SM Prime Holdings Inc., San Miguel Corp. and Metro Pacific Investment Corp.—to agree on the site and its construction schedule.

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Barring unforeseen circumstances, the multibillion peso project will break ground this December and is expected to be operational by 2020. When completed, the station will enable MRT and LRT passengers to seamlessly travel to and from Quezon City to San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan.

It took Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade less than six months to come up with a win-win solution to an issue that earned the approval of four of the country’s top business executives.

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With the financial resources (and the political clout they bring) at their command, these tycoons can, in a manner of speaking, “buy” their way to any business activity that they may want to get into.

Tugade was able to convince them to look beyond their parochial business interests and agree to an arrangement that would serve the public’s interest without neglecting their fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders.

Bear in mind that these companies are publicly listed and have domestic and foreign creditors who will not look kindly on transactions that may adversely affect their debtors’ ability to pay promptly their financial obligations.

So this brings us to the question of why the past administration was, for a long time, unable to forge an agreement over the construction of the common station.

If technical expertise were to be used as criteria, it would be reasonable to expect Tugade’s predecessor, former Sec. Jose Emilio Abaya, to be able to promptly find a solution to the station problem.

Aside from being a lawyer, Abaya has a master’s degree in engineering from a prestigious US school. What’s more, as transportation secretary and at the same time high-ranking officer of the administration party, he enjoyed the trust and confidence of then President Benigno Aquino III.

In other words, he had the right stuff or gravitas that would have persuaded the four business tycoons to listen to him and agree to a project that would make commuting by train convenient for thousands of Filipinos.

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We can only speculate on the reasons behind Abaya’s failure to resolve the station issue in the four years he was transportation secretary.

Well, that’s water under the bridge and the Duterte administration is now in control of the government.

The construction period— three years—may appear distant, but considering how fast time flies, 2020 will soon be here.

Judging from the past performance record of the companies involved in the construction of the common station, it is reasonable to expect that they will be able to meet on time (or even earlier) their respective obligations under the agreement.

But can the same be said with the government with regard to its commitments to the other contracting parties?

The government’s record on strict compliance with the terms and conditions of the contracts it enters into with the private sector has been spotty.

On several occasions before, government changed the terms of contracts for infrastructure or public utilities with private entities in the middle of the project or during its term for populist or political reasons.

Worse, after the project is completed and already running, the government refuses to abide with the post-operational provisions of the agreement. As a result, the private company concerned is forced to resort to arbitration to resolve the dispute and, in the process, incur additional expenses.

Hopefully, all the parties involved in the common train station project, especially, the government, will faithfully abide with the obligations that they voluntarily signed on.

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TAGS: common train station, economy, light rail transit-1, Metro Pacific Investment Corp., Metro Rail Transit, Philippine business news updates, San Miguel Corp., Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade
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