Yamsuan asks DOTr to seek PPP over China loan for ‘Bicol Express’
MANILA, Philippines — The government should seek a public-private partnership (PPP) to revive the Philippine National Railway (PNR) South Long Haul Project instead of relying on a loan from China.
Bicol Saro party-list Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan said this Wednesday, urging the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to use the PPP mode in pushing through with the South Long Haul Project, otherwise called Bicol Express, since China has not made any solid commitment for the plan.
The Bicol Express spans from Metro Manila to Albay. Its revival was supposed to be funded through a foreign loan from China Export-Import Bank amounting to P142 billion. But the bank has not approved the loan yet, so no civil works contract has been finalized for the project.
“Based on my discussions with (DOTr) Undersecretary (Cesar) Chavez, going the PPP route to implement the civil works aspect of the project is the best way to ensure that the Bicol Express project gets off the ground,” Yamsuan said in a statement.
“Ang pangarap ng maraming Bicolano ay mabuhay muli ang (The dream of many Bicolanos is to revive the) Bicol Express. Many Bicolanos await the day when the Bicol Express chugs back to life with fast, modern trains. Our dream is for the Bicol Express to provide affordable, safe, and comfortable service for commuters and make Bicol’s economy the fastest growing in the country,” he added.
The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. considered the revival of South Long Haul as one of its priority projects. For 2024, DOTr proposed a P3 billion allocation for this initiative.
But during the September 4 deliberations on DOTr’s proposed budget for next year, Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera questioned the funding for the project that has become stagnant – at zero disbursement rate.
In response, Chavez disclosed to the committee on appropriations DOTr’s discussions regarding Bicol Express.
According to the transport official, Secretary Jaime Bautista has directed them to talk with the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and Department of Finance (DOF) about the project’s next steps – including talking with the Chinese Embassy.
Chavez also recommended to the DOTr chief several ways to deal with the matter: a renegotiation or termination of the deal with China, a search for other funding sources such as foreign official development assistance or ODA, or utilizing PPP.
Yamsuan agreed with Chavez on opting for PPP, noting that the government partnered with foreign funding institutions like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to provide financing for the electromechanical system of the Bicol Express.
Yamsuan added that under the PPP scheme, the government could shoulder right-of-way acquisitions, as well as the rolling stock and other civil works aspects of the project.
He stressed that the train line’s revival would create thousands of jobs and support businesses from Manila to Bicol as stations would grow into economic hubs.
“When the Bicol Express is reconstructed and fully operational, every station it passes along its line will be a busy hub of economic activity. Micro and small enterprises will be sprouting in every station, providing jobs for tens of thousands of Bicolanos,” the party-list legislator said.
Aside from Yamsuan, appropriations panel chair and Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co is likewise pushing for the revival of the Bicol Express.
Co previously said that the resumption of Manila-Bicol trips would shorten travel time significantly. Manila-Bicol trip via bus takes 12 hours.