THE USUAL skeptics think that while a subway can provide relief for Metro Manila denizens slowly dying from inhaling polluted air and grappling with horrendous traffic, an underground rail system is not feasible in the flood-prone national capital.
Since streets get inundated after a slight drizzle in this metropolis some of whose sections are below sea level, they ask what the guarantee is there that commuters taking their chance in the subway will not drown when the next typhoon blows in.
What will happen to passengers trapped in the darkened tunnel if the subway system is hit by the usual brownout or if a train jumps off the rail like its cousin the MRT-3 is wont to do every so often? (The mismanaged MRT-3 has given light rail commuting a bad name.)
Those questions may sound valid, but are a bit late to ask. Japan and the Philippines already exchanged notes the other day with Tokyo committing a loan of close to P60 billion for three key projects, one of them the first phase of the Metro Manila subway system.
As much as P47.15 billion of the loan may go to the subway’s 30.8-kilometer first line connecting 14 stations from Valenzuela in the north to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay and on to the Food Terminal Inc. in Taguig.
The Japanese foreign ministry said 129.857-billion-yen in assistance is part of the 1-trillion-yen financial package for Philippine development projects pledged by Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year. (One yen converts to 0.451 pesos)
The loans and assistance package was among the low-hanging fruits that President Rodrigo Duterte has picked during his two-day official visit to Tokyo this week that included a one-on-one with the prime minister and a call on Japanese Emperor Akihito.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the interest rate for the loan is 0.1 percent per annum while the repayment period is 28 years after a 12-year grace period. About 800-billion yen (P356 billion) is needed to complete the subway project.
With the terms being disclosed, Filipino taxpayers, businessmen, and economic planners know what to expect, unlike in the case of loans and deals promised by China whose terms have not been announced or explained.
During Duterte’s Tokyo visit, 18 agreements were signed between Japanese business entities and Philippine firms involving an estimated $6 billion worth of new investments.
• Tugade assures smooth tunneling
TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade, who is overseeing the subway project, said the underground rail network whose construction will not disturb vehicular flow above ground, will help ease traffic, reduce air pollution, and stimulate productivity.
Assuring “Postscript” that the subway was technically feasible despite expected geological challenges, Tugade cited several engineering feats involving long-distance submarine tunnels efficiently and safely connecting far-off places.
He said the Metro Manila subway service will start with 19 trains, each train consisting of eight cars, running at 80 kilometers per hour (compared to the 35 kph of the degraded MRT-3 line on EDSA).
Travel time between Valenzuela, where the 28.8-hectare depot will be located, and FTI in Taguig will be 43 minutes for the local service, and 32 minutes for the express run servicing only eight of the 14 stations.
Starting from Valenzuela, the Express and Local stations are: Mindanao Ave-Quirino Highway (Express&Local); Tandang Sora QC (Loc); North Ave QC (Exp&Loc); Quezon Ave QC (Exp&Loc); East Ave QC (Loc); Anonas QC (Exp&Loc); Katipunan Ave QC (Loc); Ortigas North Pasig (Exp&Loc); Ortigas South Pasig (Loc); Kalayaan Ave Makati (Loc); Bonifacio Global City Taguig (Exp&Loc); Cayetano Blvd Taguig (Loc); NAIA Pasay (Exp&Loc); and Food Terminal Inc Taguig (Exp&Loc).
Tugade said the groundbreaking and the building of a training center will be in the third quarter of 2018. Construction will go full blast middle of 2020.
The boring of the 30.8-kilometer tunnel for the first line will start 2019. Premier Abe has expressed optimism that partial operation of the line will start during Duterte’s term, before the presidential election in 2022.
A tunnel-boring machine will dig several meters below street level without motorists and pedestrians even aware of the activity underground, except at some station sites with limited space for materials and equipment being mobilized.
The tough head of the worm-like machine bores through whatever is in its way, gathers and sends the debris to the rear through a spiral conveyor. As it drills on, pre-stressed slabs are installed to shore up the inside of the tunnel.
• It’s now Philippines lending to IMF
GIVEN its “sound macroeconomic fundamentals and strong external position,” the Philippines has extended its $1-billion loan support to the International Monetary Fund to help other economies in distress.
In Washington, DC, for the IMF annual meeting last month, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Nestor A. Espenilla Jr. signed the note purchase agreement with the multilateral lender, renewing the country’s loan facility that expired in September.
The central bank said in a statement: “As a member of the global community, the BSP shares the responsibility to contribute to the stability of the international monetary system given its sound macroeconomic fundamentals and strong external position.”
The Philippines became a net creditor in 2011 after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the full settlement in December 2006 of its IMF loan.
In 2013, then BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco signed for the first time the $1-billion loan facility with the IMF “to support countries going through financial difficulties to minimize their adverse impact on the global community.” The facility, however, was not tapped.
Espenilla said in a forum last week: “For the longest time, the Philippines was a prolonged user of IMF resources. Today, we are lending to the IMF so the IMF can lend to others that need the resources.”