THE country’s top transportation official remains hopeful that the proposed buyout of Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT3) will be carried out before the current administration steps down in the middle of next year.
With seven months left before the end of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s term, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya said that there is still fairly enough time to finalize the buyout of the MRT3.
“We still have seven months in office. Mahabang panahon pa iyon [That is still a long time],” Abaya told reporters in a chance interview late last week.
The proposed MRT3 equity buyout deal, valued at P54 billion, would supposedly solve the nettlesome issue on the ownership of the 15-year-old rapid transit system.
MRT3 is currently owned and operated by Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) which is under Fil-Estate Management, a group led by businessman Robert Sobrepena.
Under the build-operate-and transfer (BOT) contract granted by the DOTC, MRTC is in charge of construction and maintenance of the system as well as the procurement of spare parts for trains.
The DOTC has regulatory power over fares and administrative functions. Under the contract, the DOTC is obliged to pay MRTC monthly fees for the duration of 25 years.
The MRT3, which runs across the north and south ends of Metro Manila and carries more or less half a million commuters daily, has considerably deteriorated in terms of service, efficiency and train and station upkeep over the years.
Long lines, defective air-conditioning, delayed train arrivals, and stalled coaches are only a few of the passengers’ complaints.
The buyout deal is seen as a possible solution to the worsening condition of the rail line. Once the MRT3 is fully owned by the government, the DOTC can take on improvement projects for the rail line.
However, the deal could not proceed due to a lack of funding from the national budget because the appropriation for the proposed buyout was excluded from the 2016 budget.
According to lawmakers, the buyout will be a waste of money.
“We have to sit down again,” Abaya said when asked about the status of talks regarding the buyout.
He said that the DOTC is working on asking for a recommendation from the Office of the Solicitor General.
“We are working on that,” Abaya said.
“We’re now working on the comfort of the GFIs [government financial institutions],” he said, referring to the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, which are both stakeholders in MRTC.
“I think the real concern is taking a loss in the EVBO,” he said, adding however that there are remedies to such concerns.