Amid ceremonies marking Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Manila, the Philippine and Japanese governments quietly finalized details for another train line—the 109-kilometer North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) Extension project.
On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda signed an exchange of notes for a P77.4-billion grant to start construction of one of the flagship projects under President Duterte's "Build Build Build" program.
The loan represented the first tranche of official development assistance (ODA) for the entire P777-billion NSCR system.
It was to be jointly funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asian Development Bank.
The two-part extension (Clark and Calamba) will extend NSCR Phase 1 (Tutuban to Malolos) by 53 km north and 56 km south.
It was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority on Nov. 15 and was expected to improve mass transport in Metro Manila.
Once completed, the NSCR project will have 36 stations, 58 eight-car trains and a double-track fully elevated railway system that will connect Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon).
It's also expected to have seamless transfers to existing railways in Metro Manila—Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines 1 and 2, the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 and the upcoming Metro Manila subway.
The system was expected to serve 340,000 passengers a day once portions of it start operating in 2022. It's expected to be fully operational by 2023.
MRT 3 rehab
The signing of the exchange of notes on the railway project also came two weeks after both countries inked an P18-billion loan agreement for the 43-month rehabilitation of the MRT 3.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the Philippines was "satisfied" with the pace of negotiations for financing from Japan and China for "big ticket projects."
Dominguez said ODA assistance from Japan and China were "both very relevant and progressing on both sides quite well."
The finance chief made the statement after meeting with a Japanese delegation led by Hiroto Izumi, special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Last Tuesday, the Philippine and Chinese governments also signed a number of agreements covering economic cooperation as well as infrastructure development.
Asked if Japan and China were competing to finance projects here, Dominguez replied: "I don't know if they are competing, but I think that many countries around the world are paying attention to the Philippines primarily because President Duterte has refocused our entire foreign policy."
"He has focused on our neighbors," Dominguez said.
"Please don't forget that aside from China and Japan, South Korea is providing a significant amount of assistance to us," he said. "In fact, the commitment is about $1 billion," Dominguez added.
Japan and China had earlier committed $9 billion in assistance to the Philippines, including loans and grants for the Build, Build, Build program.
Through Build, Build, Build the government planned to roll out 75 "game-changing" projects, with about half to be finished within Mr. Duterte's term.
The government planned to spend more than P8 trillion for the projects until 2022 to usher in a "golden age of infrastructure."
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