Gov’t struggles with property acquisition for Manila subway

Metro Manila subway will run from Valenzuela City to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Photo taken on March 8. — PHILIPPINE STAR / MICHAEL VARCAS

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

CONSTRUCTION of the first phase of the Metro Manila subway is facing delays as the government continues to have difficulty in land acquisition, its project manager said.

“There are property owners who refuse to cooperate, but we are getting help from different agencies and local government units in order to proceed,” Manila Subway Project Manager Mikaela Eloisa D. Mendoza told One New’s Agenda on Monday.

Land expropriation is an option to expedite the process, she said.

Ms. Mendoza said there was no available land for the subway project, except for those initially identified government properties, such as Veterans Golf Course and Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City and other properties in Taguig.

The Transportation department has already acquired 90% of the properties needed for the 30-hectare depot in Valenzuela City and some station areas under the first contract package of the subway project, she said.

Ms. Mendoza said the department still aims to complete the first phase of the country’s first subway by 2028.

“We are incurring delays (in the project implementation) because of the pandemic aside from the right-of-way (ROW) acquisition. Now that the situation is going back to normal, the construction continues,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The P357-billion, 33-kilometer subway will run from Valenzuela City to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It will have 17 hop-in and hop-out stations. The subway’s Ortigas and Shaw Boulevard stations recently broke ground.

Rene S. Santiago, former president of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines, said the target completion date for the subway is unrealistic.

“The 2028 completion date is a long shot, after I read the news items about two awards for contract packages. One stated 67 months to complete, equal to 5.6 years or nearly end of 2028. That is only one work package involving two stations and the tunneling in between,” he said in a phone message when sought for comment.

“The alleged ROW problem should not have happened if they optimized the use of TBMs (tunnel boring machines) and divided the contracts differently. Use only four TBMs, and two separate tunneling contract packages; equal to less surface disruptions and speedier construction. Estimated time for tunneling is 4.5 years,” he added.

Mr. Santiago said a more realistic completion date is by 2030.

Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said that if the acquisition of private property gets caught up in a protracted legal battle, the 2028 completion may be unrealistic.

“For context, the acquisition of private property along the subway alignment covers the country’s most exclusive villages and commercial properties. As such, we are expecting stiff opposition grinding through a prolonged expropriation process,” he said in a phone message.

“However, this should have been considered by the previous administration when it proceeded with finalizing the current subway alignment.”

He also said that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Transport department officials should decide whether rerouting the alignment is a feasible endeavor without delaying construction and incurring further costs.

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