Monday, June 25, 2007

The Mindanao Railway Agenda: A dream for a reality or just another dream?

For the past ten years, Mindanao received a lot of prospects from the national government regarding the plans of the future Mindanao railway system. The project was launched in September 1996 as among the flagship projects under the Ramos administration. It was relaunched in Arroyo’s administration with Speaker Jose De Venecia at the helm. The Arroyo government put the Mindanao development as one of its major agenda in her SONA. News conferences have come out since 2001 about the Mindanao railway agenda but the starting phase of the project always ceases despite interested countries announcing to fund the feasibility studies.

There have been interested countries that expressed interest in the project. Back in 2005, the Thailand government pledged an amount of $ 1 million (US) dollars to the Philippines to bankroll the feasibility studies for the first phase of the project. The first phase of the Mindanao railway project, the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan grid, an 83 kilometer length between the two cities, would enhance the economic prospects of both cities and the nearby provinces if implemented. The grid is the location of the longest industrial corridor in Mindanao, the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor (CIC) which currently hosts one of the biggest industries in the Philippines. Back in 2006, Spain was also interested in helping our country with this project citing their technological know-how in their local rail transport system through RENFE, Spain’s national railway operator which operates Spain’s 15,000 kilometer system of railways. They were interested in participating in the Iligan-Cagayan de Oro Railway project and told that it will fund 100,000 Euros for a feasibility project. Construccion Y Auxilliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), on the other hand, a railroad construction company, was also looking at providing 33 million Euros to fund the feasibility study for the Mindanao railway project. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) reported back in 2005 that Germany and Saudi Arabia have announced its intentions to invest a whooping P18 billon for the construction of the Mindanao Railway. Germany announced that they will invest 220 million Euros or P15.4 billion while Saudi Arabia will lend $40 million and donate another $10 million or a total of P2.705 billion. The investment would have partly financed the 83-kilometer Cagayan-Cotabato Phase of the project that would link the cities of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog, Marawi and Cotabato by 2008. And just recently, the government of Iran is interested with the first Mindanao railway project that would span the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor as it said that it would span the Muslim-Christian relationship in the said island.

What seems to stop this project from being implemented is a question cannot be answered. Despite the interests of other countries to fund the project, there seems to be a halting mechanism to start the project. Some would quote the peace and order aspect. Now that the government of Iran is interested which is a Muslim nation, peace and order would not be the reason for the halting of the project. Let’s wait and see if any good outcome will result.

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