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MANILA, Philippines —With its Charter set to expire in three months, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) will wind down its operations in three years unless Congress passes a bill extending its life, Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said on Friday.
Recto said PNR’s Charter, Republic Act 4126, expires on June 20, 2014 “but the executive has not acted yet to seek its extension.”
“If its Charter is not extended, then it says there in RA 4126, that the PNR must wind down its operations in three years, prepare for dissolution and dispose its properties,” he said in a statement.
“Once PNR’s charter expires, then the process of demobilization begins,” Recto said.
Section 16 of RA 4126, he said, provides that PNR’s disposal of properties “shall not be for the purpose of continuing the business for which it was established.”
Recto said the dismantling of PNR would mean that “the real estate it owns which is valued in the billions of pesos can be the subject of a “bidding war by real estate companies.”
“If you recall, even the space above the tracks are worth billions of pesos in so-called air rights. You can build a road above the tracks provided you buy that space from PNR. While it may be poor in rolling stock, PNR is a Colossus when it comes to land holdings,” he said.
The senator then urged the Palace to send to Congress a bill extending PNR’s corporate life “and use its majority clout” in both houses to pass it before Congress goes on recess in the second week of June.”
“We need to fast-track it. We cannot allow the dissolution train to leave the station. If there’s one bill that must be railroaded, then this is the one,” he said.
Recto, an administration ally, criticized what he described as “skewed prioritization” of government, which could be seen, he said, in the national budget where the annual subsidy of P344 million for the PNR, which carries 25 million passengers a year, is equivalent to the budget for a 17-kilometer road concreting project in one town in the Visayas.
The same “least priority’ treatment for PNR, he said, was also evident in the Pasig River ferry service.
“There seems to be an official fixation with roads but an allergy to ferries and rail,” he said.
Recto said the revival of the Pasig River ferry service has yet to receive official blessings despite its feasibility as an alternative mode of transportation in traffic-choked Metro Manila.
While commending Metro Manila Development Authority’s (MMDDA) “bold and creative move” to unveil its version of the ferry recently, the senator said it needs more than the trial runs of prototypes to get the ferry back in service.
“What is needed is an unequivocal policy statement, which would include funding commitments for the ferry’s revival and expansion. Even for so-called ‘signaling’ purposes, that would be enough in jumpstarting things,” he said.
The senator has been batting for the tapping of underutilized mass transport systems, like the PNR and the mothballed Pasig River ferry as Metro Manila girds for traffic with the simultaneous implementation of 17 road projects.
Recto had earlier said that doubling the number of PNR trains plying the 44-kilometer Tutuban, Manila- Sta. Rosa Laguna line alone will allow it to ferry 25 million more passengers a year.
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