article by Bong D. Fabe from www.businessmirror.com

The Saudi government has expressed willingness to fork out at least $1.3 billion to start the construction of the ambitious Mindanao railway project that will link key urban centers in the island.

Guiling Mamondiong, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) undersecretary for rails, said that among the parties they’ve contacted for possible loans to finance the project such as Poland, Spain, Japan and South Korea, the Saudi Fund for Development has emerged as the most likely source of funds.

“One possible party is the Saudi Fund for Development. They’ve expressed willingness [to finance] this project,” he said. “They’re just awaiting the National Economic and Development Authority’s approval of the feasibility study for the project’s phase one so there’s a possibility that they will fund the entire project.”

Mamondiong said that once given the go signal, the Mindanao Railway System (MRS) will be operational five years from start of construction.

Party-list Rep. Ariel Hernandez of Anak Mindanao said the MRS is a very good complement to the party-list’s objectives of boosting Mindanao’s development, equity and peace as it will provide Mindanaoans with a fast, efficient and cost-effective integrated public transport system vitally needed by the island.

“Once realized, a railway system in Mindanao will boost tourism and business, as well provide our farmer brethren with an efficient and fast transport system to market their produce, thereby uplifting their economic conditions,” Hernandez said.

The MRS is an ambitious project listed as a priority infrastructure project of the Arroyo administration.

It was started during the Ramos administration when it was eventually shelved, but was again revived by the short-lived Estrada presidency. Until now, the project has failed to take off from the drawing boards because of lack of a funding advocate.

Only when Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (CDO, Second District, PMP) championed the MRS did government officials initiated the processes to make it a reality.

Rodriguez filed House Bill 1855 creating the Mindanao Railways Corp. (MRC) to manage the MRS.

He said the government had already earmarked P10 million for the office of the MRC.

The MRS is made up of a network of railways linking Cagayan de Oro City to Iligan City up to Zamboanga City, and to the Agusan and Surigao provinces. It also has extensions to the cities of Davao and General Santos.

Rodriguez had earlier asked the DOTC to finish the MRS feasibility study in four months from the original 10 months so that the National Economic and Development Authority can immediately study it for implementation before the elections.

Construction of the first phase of the MRS project covering the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan stretch is being prioritized because it is an industrial and economic corridor.

The project’s first phase costs $1.3 billion, Mamondiong said, explaining that it was stretched to 124 kilometers from the original 120 kms because “four municipalities—Linamon in Lanao del Norte and Tagoloan, Villanueva and Jasaan in Misamis Oriental—were included.

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