DOTr official: Talks initiated on funding for delayed China-backed rail projects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — A number of railway projects under the “Build Build Build” program which were expected to be financed by China are facing delays due to non-approval of loan applications, according to a transport official, as these were overtaken by events in change of administration.

Transportation Undersecretary Cesar Chavez said the planned railways from Calamba to Bicol worth ₱142 billion; from Clark to Subic worth ₱51 billion, and the Mindanao Railway worth ₱83 billion cannot move forward for lack of funds.

The projects are part of the Build, Build, Build program, which former President Rodrigo Duterte previously said has China as an “important ingredient.”

READ: Hits and misses of Duterte's 'Build, Build, Build'

Chavez said pursuant to executive agreements between the Duterte administration and the Chinese government, the Department of Finance (DOF) submitted loan requests since 2021 to China Eximbank for the Calamba-Bicol and the Subic-Clark railways, among other projects.

He explained that when the loans weren’t approved by end-May, these were automatically withdrawn “in deference to the incoming administration” of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.

He said the China Eximbank had been informed of the withdrawal policy beforehand.

Chavez said the DOTr has since coordinated with the DOF “to initiate policy discussions” on how to push through with the projects.

In an interview with reporters, he said the government doesn’t have the budget to fund these railroads. He noted the only options are official development assistance from other nations or public-private partnership.

“Policy discussion on the way forward for the above 3 China ODA Rail Projects has also been initiated at the July 12 Cabinet Meeting, during which PBBM (President Bongbong Marcos) commented that as a matter of policy, we should encourage more investment in rail, and that we should focus more on rail in transport,” Chavez said in a separate statement.