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Most welcome news: Rehab plans for MRT

FOR the thousands who take the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) every day, despite the very great possibility that the train they take may just stop somewhere along the way, the news of Japan and the Philippines exchanging Notes Verbale for the rehabilitation and maintenance of MRT-3 was truly welcome.

This new year 2018, there has been one MRT breakdown every day – an improvement on last year’s two to three times a day. Many times, passengers were forced to walk back to their stations as the train stopped in the middle of the route. Last November, the two last coaches got disconnected and their stranded passengers could only watch as the main part of the train continued on its way.

In the first 12 years of its existence – from 2000 to 2012 – MRT-3 operated rather well, with maintenance done by Japan’s Sumitomo with Marubeni. In 2012, administration officials replaced Sumitomo with a series of newly organized firms, and the breakdowns and other troubles began.

Last January 9, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) of the new Duterte administration announced that Japan and the Philippines have reached agreement on a program to rehabilitate the MRT system, with Official Development Assistance (ODA) through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

With this financing – at 0.1 percent annual interest over a 40-year payment period with a grace period of 12 years for the principal – JICA will conduct a feasibility study to determine the scope of the project. It will nominate what it assured will be a highly qualified rehabilitation and maintenance provider with a reliable track record. The loan and other agreements will be signed from March to April and mobilization for the project will begin within the second quarter of the year.

Alongside this rehabilitation program for the MRT, legal efforts are underway to go after the previous administration officials held responsible for the replacement of the original maintenance firm with ones that were evidently incompetent, resulting in all those problems that have plagued the MRT since 2012. Plunder charges have been filed against these officials, who include two Cabinet members of the Aquino administration.

The legal cases will be pursued in the name of accountability and will hopefully discourage future officials from taking similar action. For the thousands of MRT passengers, it is enough and it is most welcome news that rehabilitation of MRT will soon be underway so that the fear of getting stranded or worse will no longer plague them.

  • Sadako Yamamura

    It should be noted that currently, the DOTr and Japan are still in the note verbales stage of negotiations. This is like an informal exchange of their intentions. Nothing is even signed. If JICa is receptive to what has been outlined they will then conduct a feasability study to determine the cost and effort that will be involved in rehabilitating the MRT. I don’t mean to be a downer, but to set expectations, there will still be a long wait ahead, and that’s even assuming Japan will still pursue the rehabilitation after their study. With that in mind the DOTr should also take steps to prepare us for what will inevitably be worse traffic as the MRT deteriorates and then is taken offline during rehab.