THE Palace said Monday that the promise by President Benigno Aquino III to have himself and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya run over by a train if they missed a Dec. 31 deadline to extend the LRT to Cavite should not be taken literally.
With only three more days until Aquino’s self-imposed deadline and the LRT extension far from complete, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President’s boast during a 2013 campaign sortie was merely “an aspirational statement.”
“The President was speaking with a sense of urgency when he announced his desire to see the project within two years,” Coloma said. “Any reasonable person would understand this to have been an aspirational statement. Despite the delays, the government continues to pursue the project.”
In his speech two years ago, the President boasted that when the LRT-1 Cavite Extension was completed by 2015, the system would have faster trains and be able to carry 250,000 more people.
“And if that doesn’t happen, here’s Secretary Abaya who’s in charge of the project; he and I will probably have ourselves run over by a train,” Aquino said in Filipino.
As early as July, a video of the President’s 2013 campaign speech in Cavite was posted on various websites and social media, with some critics saying they were eagerly awaiting the end of the year.
The LRT’s private concessionaire, Light Rail Manila Corp., said no progress has been made in the two years since the President made his campaign promise.
“There are no new developments for the LRT-1 Cavite Extension Project as the notice to proceed hasn’t yet been given to LRMC by the DoTC [Department of Transportation and Communications],” the company said in a statement.
Abaya said the delays were caused by the failure in the project’s bidding process under the Public-Private Partnership Program.
“When the President made that announcement we were still leading up to the bid. No one plans for a failure of bid…. No one showed up at the day of bidding,” Abaya said in July.
Abaya said the start of the construction is expected within the first half of 2016.
“Again, this is a PPP project. They are talking to their creditors,” he said.
The National Economic and Development Authority Board, which is chaired by Aquino, agreed in 2012 to bid out the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension and Operation and Maintenance project under the PPP Program.
The P64.9-billion project was awarded to LRMC in September of 2014 but the company only took over on Sept. 12 this year.
Under the agreement, LRMC will manage the LRT-1 for 32 years, during which it will also extend the 20.7-kilometer line by 11.7 kilometers.
“The private partner will undertake the design, construction, and financing of the Cavite Extension as well as the operation and maintenance of the integrated system upon completion of the project,” the PPP Center said in its website.
“The extension will serve future high-growth centers in the south like Cavite,” the LRMC said through a disclosure of its parent company Metro Pacific Investments Corp. in September. The extension is expected to increase passenger capacity from the current 500,000, LRMC also said.