LETTERS FROM DAVAO

By Jun Ledesma

AMONG the vital infrastructures that precede the growth momentum of advanced economies are roads, bridges, and railways. Movement of goods, mobility of people, and the speed and ease of transport are essential in achieving their development goals.

During the frontier era of America otherwise known as the wild wild west, the pioneers rely mainly on horse-drawn carriages. California was famous not only for the gold rush but also for the fertility of the soil fit for agriculture.

When the various states became united the eastern hemisphere would source food items from other states. Given the distance and terrain, the final solution was to build railways not only for passengers but for cargoes. As an aside, Chinese labor was used to construct railways during those frontier times in America. That account for the many China town in the USA.

Fast forward, railways became an important transport infrastructure as nations started to recover from the ruins of World War II. The more familiar to us is the Amtrak of USA and then the bullet train of Japan.

When China began to reform its economy in 1978, among the vital investments were railways given the size of the land area and its population. The reforms drew investors from the US and Europe propelling a dizzying pace of growth that averaged nearly 10 percent a year. As a consequence, more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty.

The railway system contributed immensely to the movement of people and goods. Today, China may have exceeded 20,000 kilometers of railway system using high-speed trains and the maglev generation of trains just like those of Japan. The high-speed trains made Amtrak jurassic.

Closer to home, the Duterte administration under its “Build, Build, Build” program had put a premium on the country’s railway projects including LRTs and MRTs. We all know how decrepit MRTs and LRTs have become under the watch of the Aquino administration. The restoration of maintenance contractors by the Duterte government had increased the number of coaches which now run twice the speed.

I had a chance to talk with DOTr Usec Cesar Chavez recently and he revealed that additional coaches for MRT 3 will be fielded starting this August. This, he assured, will solve the long queue of passengers.

In his SONA, Pres. Ferdinand “BBM” Marcos, Jr. mentioned three railway projects which were suspended on account of funding requirements. These are the Bulacan to Clark, Calamba to Bicol, and the Davao segment of the Mindanao Railway System.

Chavez said the renegotiation of loans either from China or Japan would proceed after being given the green light by the National Economic and Development Authority. He said that the order of PBBM is clear and direct: “FULL SPEED AHEAD!”

Contrary to rumors from skeptics, the Tagum-Davao-Digos segment of the MRS is ongoing. Usec Chavez revealed that funds for the acquisition of roads-right-of way are available. In fact there were already disbursements made. He, moreover, said he wants to fast-track the RRW so that the moment the loan is secured, procurements will follow.

Usec Chavez is an action man. Now that he was given the task that would focus on railways with full-backing of PBBM and DOTr Sec. Jaime Bautista every problem that crops up will always have a solution.

About the Columnist

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Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.