Mar Roxas

BEIJING, China – Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II said here last September 1 that the controversial North Rail project, which was originally awarded to a Chinese contractor, would have to be “reconfigured.”

“The Chinese ministers said that they are open to discussing it,” Roxas told Filipino journalists here.

Roxas, who was one of the few Cabinet secretaries who accompanied President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III in his visit to the historic Forbidden City in the Chinese capital, said that only through reconfiguration would North Rail move forward.

He was quick to differentiate “reconfiguration” from “renegotiation,” the latter being the operating word that Philippine authorities had been in connection with the project just prior to President Aquino’s state visit in the People’s Republic of China.

“In diplomatic terms, renegotiation means seeking changes to the existing contract; reconfiguration means that the project itself is going to be changed,” Roxas said. “Our intent is to write up a whole new project.”

The former senator said the topic was brought up during the bilateral meeting between President Aquino and President Hu Jintao of China last August 31.

Approved by the previous government, the railway project has been plagued by cost overruns: from an original price tag of $503 million, it would now require $1.8 billion to complete it.

Asked about what was said by Chinese officials on the project, Aquino on said, “They emphasized that a Chinese entity did spend time, effort, finances, and that the rights of this Chinese corporation should be respected.”

Roxas assured that the present builder would be compensated for its completed work although it may not be based on his assessment. “Out of the 90-kilometer line, I think they’ve just put up one kilometer.”

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Roxas said the government is now eyeing the construction of an even longer train line from Clark in Pampanga to Manila’s “Central Business District.”

He said that the reconfiguration of North Rail was vital in three aspects.

“First, the Philippines will be the one to write the terms of reference. Second, we will determine first the accomplishments before paying the builders and third, the contract would be bid out (as opposed to being designated) to a Chinese company that is experienced and accredited in railway construction.”

On the cost of the new project, Roxas said that they would be leaving the matter to the engineers. The construction on North Rail was halted last April to make way for a review of the contract. (With Manila Bulletin report)