In response to growing congestion issues, Manila’s public transport system is gearing up for a major shift in capacity with the construction of the country’s first mass underground transit system, the biggest project to date under President Rodrigo Duterte’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure programme. Financed through an official development assistance agreement, formed between Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the long-awaited Metro Manila Subway Project (MMSP) was approved by the National Economic Development Authority in September 2017. At an estimated total cost of P355.6bn ($7bn), the subway system is intended to connect major business districts and government centres across Manila. The repayment terms for the MMSP loan have been set at an annual interest of 0.1%, payable over 40 years, with a grace period of 12 years. In March 2018, not long after the approval, the first tranche of the loan agreement was signed between JICA and DOTr for P51.3bn ($1bn).
Upon completion, the MMSP will span 28.3 km, featuring a double-tube, single-track tunnel structure with a standard diameter of 6.8 meters. Travel time from Mindanao Avenue to FTI station should take approximately 31 minutes via express train at a speed of 48.5 km per hour (km/h), or 42 minutes via the local train at a speed of 35.6 km/h. The depot for trains is expected to cover between 25 and 28 ha.
According to reports from the DOTr, the first phase of the project, which is set to break ground in the fourth quarter of 2018, will comprise 13 underground stations running from north to south Manila. After the initial construction phase is completed, partial operations will begin sometime between 2021 and 2022, with three stations of the proposed subway system set to open in Mindanao Avenue, North Avenue and Tandang Sora in Quezon City, accommodating around 120,000 passengers daily. By 2025 the MMSP is expected to have capacity for up to 365,000 passengers per day. This figure will rise to 669,000 passengers per day by The proposed route for the Central Zone of the subway will start at Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City and end at FTI station in Taguig City, with a depot in Ugong, Valenzuela City. The 13 underground stations will traverse six cities across the National Capital Region, including: Valenzuela, Quezon, Pasig, Makati, Taguig and a small portion of Parañaque City. The project will be supported by advanced electro-mechanical systems and rolling stock. In order to train personnel to operate, manage and maintain the MMSP, as well as engage in research and development on how to improve the network, the government agreed to establish the Philippine Railway Institute in March 2018.
The decision to develop the nation’s first mass underground transport network is expected to have a significant impact on the capital’s economic output once it is completed. Congestion has become a major dilemma for the country, with its economic impact estimated at P3.5bn ($69.1m) per day in lost productivity, up from P2.4bn ($47.4m) per day in 2014. Dubbed the South-east Asian “project of the century” by government officials, the MMSP has been cited as critical to the long-term mitigation of congestion and an important enabler of inclusive urban development.
While the project is still in its infancy, the development of the MMSP is set to bring a number of benefits to the country. These include a multiplier effect around subway stations, and both long- and short-term job creation for high- and low-skill workers. The MMSP will significantly enhance mobility and reduce commuting times; this, coupled with the psychological impact of swifter, more comfortable journeys, is expected to significantly improve productivity and encourage both domestic and international investment.
In addition to the MMSP, efforts are under way to address congestion through the upgrade and expansion of Metro Manila’s existing infrastructure. Construction work is scheduled to begin in mid-2018 on the 11.7-km extension of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1. The P64.9bn ($1.3bn) extension would see the construction of eight new stations connecting Baclaran station to Niog in Cavite, passing through Pasay City, Parañaque City and Las Piñas City, with the extension trains set to travel at 60 km/h. The project is set for completion by 2021.
While the positive impact of the subway project for commuters, the labour force and the local economy is clear, there are nevertheless a number of problems that need to be mitigated. The MMSP will entail land acquisition across highly urbanised areas in Metro Manila. While the basic subway structure and construction of stations will take place on a subterranean level, the work taking place above ground will involve the displacement of structures, businesses and affected persons.
In order to assess the social impact associated with the displacement of residents, the JICA put together a report, published in August 2017. The report summarises the JICA engineering team’s findings from impact assessments on a range of alternative construction alignments in an effort to development a construction plan that is both economical, environmentally friendly and socially sustainable. However, given the high population density of Manila, some displacement is unavoidable. The report stresses the importance of following international guidelines to ensure that no persons will be worse off following the implementation of the MMSP. While there are a number of international standards that can serve as a framework for resettlement – such as those issued by the JICA, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank – the JICA suggests that some local conditions may prevent their straightforward adoption for the MMSP. The DOTr, which is implementing the MMSP, is a government entity and must therefore follow Philippine law. While the Philippine legal system already contains existing measures to protect those affected by major infrastructure projects, accommodating the impact of the MMSP may require further policy measures.
The JICA therefore suggests that it may be necessary for the DOTr to introduce additional regulations to harmonise domestic laws with international standards. These suggested measures include the provision of incentives for voluntary relocation, full compensation for losses incurred, and the conducting of impact assessments and public consultations.
The development of the MMSP is set to be complemented by efforts to upgrade Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the country’s biggest international gateway. A P350bn ($6.9bn) proposal from a consortium of seven local conglomerates is currently being considered by the DOTr.
If implemented, the project will make NAIA accessible via the MMSP and the existing LRT Line 1, while a monorail or LRT system is planned to connect the different airport terminals. The project would also see the doubling of the size of the terminals, from 364,000 sq metres to 623,000 sq metres, and the introduction of larger check-in and baggage areas, along with centralised immigration and security facilities in Terminals 1 and 3. The proposed plan to upgrade and expand the airport is expected to see an increase in passenger capacity from its current 31m to 47m by 2020 and 65m in 2022. The outcome of the consortium’s application is set to be announced by the end of 2018.
Given the momentum behind the BBB programme and the support of the JICA, the MMSP appears to be on track for completion by 2025. While commuters will have to be patient, given that the project is not earmarked to be finished until after the end of the current administration, the extension of LRT Line 1 is slated to ease traffic congestion in the interim period. Furthermore, the development of both projects can be expected to positively impact the local economy, creating jobs and stimulating investment.
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