A long-running dispute over the location of a connecting railway station in Quezon City should soon be resolved, with the SM Group saying it had come to an initial “agreement” with the Department of Transportation and Communications.
The multiyear row has cast doubt on the sanctity of business contracts in the Philippines, and put at risk the timing of major railway projects that would be linked to the station, which will serve as the meeting point for three elevated trains serving millions of passengers per day.
“We have an agreement more or less,” Hans Sy, president of SM Prime Holdings Inc., told reporters on Monday. Sy, however, clarified that nothing had so far been signed yet with the DOTC as certain details still needed to be ironed out.
“We are not signing unless all the plans are done, and it’s clear,” Sy said. “If the plan is done, then it will be much easier to sign.”
Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The Quezon City common station— envisioned to link Metro Rail Transit Line 3, Light Rail Transit Line 1 and eventually MRT-7—was to be located initially near the SM City North Edsa shopping mall via a 2009 agreement with the Light Rail Transit Authority under the previous administration.
In 2014, the DOTC decided to move the location hundreds of meters away to an area near the adjacent Trinoma Shopping Mall of Ayala Land Inc., arguing that this was better for commuters.
The DOTC outlined this move in the contract for the LRT-1 Cavite extension public-private partnership project, won by Ayala Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. that same year.
The move prompted the SM Group to sue the government in the Supreme Court for breach of contract, which started the chain of events that led to the present discussions with the DOTC that Sy described.
To save time and to avoid the risk of losing in the Supreme Court, the DOTC floated a “two-common station” compromise solution, one each for SM North Edsa and Trinoma. That idea met lukewarm reception even from the Ayala-Metro Pacific consortium that won the LRT-1 PPP.
Metro Pacific chair Manuel V. Pangilinan said earlier that it was more beneficial for commuters if the government would build a single connecting station with multiple exits in the middle of both shopping malls, similar to a model used in Hong Kong.
Sy declined to give details on what the proposed station would look like. He, however, said it was a better compromise than what was initially floated by the DOTC.
“It’s not exactly one station, but much closer to each other,” Sy said. “It’s good for [the DOTC], and good enough for us. It’s a compromise. It goes to show how sincere we are in wanting this for the good of the country.”
Apart from SM, the consent from other stakeholders was also required, including San Miguel Corp., which broke ground on the MRT-7 last week. It was not immediately clear how the change in location would impact the MRT-7 project, since its concession agreement calls for the connecting station to be located near the SM City Annex.
Train stations are coveted pieces of infrastructure because of the foot traffic they deliver to nearby establishments. At present, more than a million people cram themselves into the LRT-1 and MRT-3 systems per day. The LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3 handle about 1.2 million passengers per day.
The DOTC is aiming to boost the use of mass transit, including building more train lines and increasing existing capacity, so that these can accommodate 7.45 million passengers per day by 2030. This was outlined under a roadmap crafted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
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