SM Prime, DOTC to file court pleadings by June 19

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SM Prime Holdings Inc. and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) were given until June 19 to file their pleadings before the court hearing the alleged breach of an agreement over the location of a common station for the mass transit lines.

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DOTC spokesperson Michael Arthur Sagcal declined to give further details on the court hearing, but said that they were pleased that no temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.

Last week, SM Prime filed suit against the DOTC for changing the location of a common station to benefit its mall industry rival. It said that it had an earlier agreement with the government that the station would be in front of SM City North Edsa instead of Ayala Land Inc.’s Trinoma Mall.

Sagcal said that both parties were given time to file their pleading, with the latest one due on June 19. “After which, the court will rule on the TRO, then try the case for injunction,” Sagcal said in a text message.

DOTC denied that it violated a 2009 agreement between SM Prime and the DOTC that would have located the common station at the SM mall. It said that SM Prime’s naming rights over the project expired in 2011, even as it argued further that the new location would benefit more commuters.

The common station will connect three urban transit lines: Light Rail Transit-1 (LRT 1), Metro Rail Transit-3 or (MRT-3), and the future MRT-7, which will run from the common station to Bulacan via Commonwealth Avenue.

DOTC said that the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) approval that SM Prime cited had expired in 2011.

It added that there is a newer Neda approval in 2013 that in effect allows the common station to be built what it said was the more advantageous location at the North Avenue end of MRT-3. This is nearer to the Trinoma mall than to the SM mall.

It also cited a 2013 public statement by the SM Prime Holdings president that allegedly said the company does not mind where the common station is built, as long as it can exercise its supposed naming rights.

In further justifying the change of location, the DOTC said building the common station at the EDSA-North Avenue end of the MRT-3 system would result in government savings of around P800 million to P1 billion. It would benefit more riders as well, it said, because the Quezon City government is developing the North Triangle area into a new central business district.

In its petition, SM Prime cited its 2009 Memorandum of Agreement with the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), stating that the agreement binds the government to build the common station in front of the SM City North Edsa mall.

SM Prime also argued that Neda approved the said location on July 7, 2009 and that in exchange, the company paid LRTA P200 million for the naming rights.

For its part, the DOTC emphasized that what matters to the transport agency is the interest of commuters and the general public.

The P1.4-billion Common Station project, also known as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 North Extension Project, is part of government efforts to address the chronic public transport shortage in the nation’s capital.

LRT 1 currently runs from Baclaran to Roosevelt in Quezon City, while the MRT 3 runs from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City.

The planned MRT 7 will begin at Tala, Caloocan City, passing through Lagro and Fairview, Novaliches, Batasan, Diliman, Philcoa, before ending at EDSA corner North Avenue. The railway will serve an estimated two million commuters in the northern parts of Quezon City and Calo–ocan City. This project will cover 14 stations.

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