Mobility advocates are questioning the Duterte administration’s “unusually fast” approval of the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) proposed by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), saying that the period from the “first and only” public consultation to the groundbreaking was just 72 days.
In a media briefing on Wednesday, September 29, Move As One Coalition member and former finance undersecretary Sunny Sevilla said advocates were caught off guard by the swift process.
“Nabigla kami. Sa totoo lang, nanlumo nung nabalitaan namin na aprubado na pala ang kontrata sa pagitan ng gobyerno at San Miguel at napirmahan na rin,” said Sevilla.
(We were surprised. Honestly, we were disheartened when we learned that the government had already approved and signed the contract with San Miguel.)
Asked about possible irregularities, Sevilla told Rappler that while the project is not illegal, “it is unusually fast.”
He said PAREX already broke ground even though the environmental compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has yet to be signed.
The DENR had held the public consultation on July 14. The supplemental toll operations agreement (STOA) was signed by SMC, the Toll Regulatory Board, and the transportation and public works departments on September 21. The groundbreaking followed three days later, on Friday, September 24.
Why a STOA? PAREX was deemed as an extension of the Metro Manila Skyway System under Presidential Decree No. 1894 or the amended franchise of the Philippine National Construction Corporation in 1983.
“As a general rule, I think all public-private partnerships – and the PAREX is a [PPP project] – should undergo exactly the same evaluation and procurement process. Yes, Swiss challenge, but more importantly, a full-blown, careful evaluation by the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) Investment Coordinating Committee, and an environmental assessment before the project is approved, not after,” Sevilla told Rappler in a message.
Advocates also reiterated in the briefing that their questions on the project were left unanswered.
Greenpeace Philippines’ RJ Mallari said the planned tollway would further “kill” the already biologically dead Pasig River when the river is covered by the expressway even in the slightest manner.
She added that it could cause more urban heat in the metropolis and even flooding due to human-induced changes in river channels.
Not one or the other
The public scoping report prepared by SMC Infrastructure and provided by Move As One to the media showed that concerns on pollution post-construction were raised by stakeholders during the meeting with the conglomerate.
SMC responded to these concerns with “noted” or the insistence that Filipinos would still benefit from the project economically as it would address traffic congestion.
On Wednesday, Tina Paterno, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites-Philippines, said it shouldn’t be a matter of the river versus Metro Manila traffic.
“We’re sacrificing a river to solve a traffic problem. Ganito ba natin gusto mag-isip ang mga pinuno natin para malutas ang iba pang problema para sa kinabukasan (Is this how we want our leaders to decide on solutions to other problems in the future)?” Paterno said.
She added: “There are many possible futures before us that are pro-development. There are alternative futures with less traffic centered around people and the planet. Which future would your children want?”
SMC president Ramon Ang on Tuesday, September 28, alleged that “forces critical” of PAREX have been pressuring urban planner and architect Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. to drop the project. The criticism, he said, is part of a “demolition job.”
In response, Move As One called on SMC to drop the project and be “open” to “sustainable” alternatives. – Rappler.com