Major transport projects affected by 2019 budget passage delay – DOTr

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 6) — The Transportation Department on Wednesday said at least three key railway projects have been affected by the delay of the passage of the 2019 budget.

In an economic briefing in Malacañang, transport officials said the government failed to pay the required advanced payments for the projects as the funds were listed under the 2019 General Appropriations Act.

These projects include the MRT-3 rehabilitation, the Metro Manila subway, and the Philippine National Railway (PNR) Tutuban-Malalos railway.

MRT-3's rehabilitation project, which was pegged to start second quarter of 2019, is the product of an P18 billion loan agreement between the country and Japan. Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was tasked to be in charge of the maintenance and rehabilitation of the rail line.

Transportation Undersecretary for Railways TJ Batan said the government has yet to pay Sumitomo Corp. the initial ₱2.5 billion payment-- amid reports that the rehabilitation project has been moved to May.

"Sa katunayan ay hindi pa po kami nakakapagbayad sa Sumitomo (Corporation) ng tinatawag nating advanced payment. Batid naman po natin na meron pong kaunting hinihintay sa budget natin sa 2019," said Batan.

[Translation: The truth is we haven't paid Sumitomo what we call our advanced payment as we have been waiting for our budget from 2019.]

Batan added contractor Sumitomo-Mitsubishi even agreed to shell out its own money to purchase the hardware needed for the initial phase of the project.

"Nagpapasamalat po kami sa Sumitomo at sa Mitsubishi Heavy dahil nga sa tiwalang binigay nila sa ating kalihim kahit di po natin sila binabayaran ay nag-cash out na po sila sa totoo lang po," he added.

[Translation: We would like to thank Sumitomo and Mitsubishi Heavy because of their trust for our secretary and department because even if we still haven't paid them, they are already cashed out.]

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said despite the budget issue, the project is already in progress.

"Budget ay nakabinbin, kailangan namin para makapagbayad. Bagamat nade-delay ang bayad sa paraang hindi namin ginawa, maganda ang samahan sa sumitomo. Nagtutulungan kung ano ang dapat magawa... Nakipag-ugnayan kami at napakita na kami ay magtutulungan so that, not withstanding the delays caused by the downpayment, deadline for project completion is still on time," he told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

In the case of the subway and the PNR Clark Phase 1 projects, contractors have also agreed to go ahead with construction even without the advanced payments.

The 2019 budget bill is still being printed and has yet to reach President Rodrigo Duterte's desk. For now, the national government is working with the re-enacted 2018 budget.

Congress ratified the reconciled version of the budget bill in February, after months of arguments over alleged anomalous "insertions" in the budget.

READ: Lawmakers still working on budget even after final version OK'd

Projects still 'on track'

Despite the budget delay issue, transport officials assured Filipinos that these projects are still "on track" and are still expected to be completed within the initial timeline set.

Batan said authorities will simply find ways to "catch up" if delays in the budget persist.

"Kahit magkaroon ng ilang linggong paghihintay doon po sa ating GAA 2019, tayo naman po ay palaging naghahanap para makapag-catch up," Batan said.

[Translation: Even if we encounter weeks of waiting for the General Appropriations Act for 2019, we are always looking for ways in order to catch up.]

"May mga oportunidad po na paiiksin o mag-catch up 'yung ilang parte ng ating proseso parang mag-offset 'yung kung ano mang nawala po nating panahon nitong finafinalize itong ating budget," he added.

[Translation: There are opportunities to shorten some parts of the process to offset whatever will be affected by the delay of our budget.]

The Metro Manila subway, the first of its kind in the country, broke ground on February 27. The project is 36 kilometers long, covers seven cities, and has 15 stations-- from Quirino Highway in Quezon City, all the way to Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.

The subway is expected to be fully operational by 2025. It is also seen to benefit 370,000 passengers daily.

The three projects are part of the administration's efforts to ease the current traffic situation in the country.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.