Right-of-way issues may delay MRT7 completion

MANILA, Philippines – The completion of the long-delayed Metro Rail Transit Line 7 (MRT7) project could further be hampered due to right-of-way (ROW) acquisition issues.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is appealing the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 11 decision raising the zonal valuation of the 33-hectare lot in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan intended to be the MRT7 depot.

In a phone interview, DOTr Communications Director Goddes Hope Libiran told Rappler that the department sought the help of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file a petition for certiorari at the Court of Appeals (CA).

From the original zonal valuation of P200 per square meter, the May ruling raised it to P1,800 per square meter – a whopping 800% increase. (READ: A long, winding road for better Metro Manila transport

"If the writ of possession is issued later within the year, it could delay the completion of the project to 2021 instead of 2020," Libiran said in a mix of English and Filipino.

What happened? According to Libiran, they filed an expropriation case back in November 2017. Concessionaire San Miguel Corporation later on paid P67 million to acquire the land.

Under Republic Act No. 10752 or the Right-of-Way Act, the court should issue a writ of possession to the implementing agency within 7 days after the payment has been made.

No writ of possession was released to the DOTr and Judge Felizardo Montero instead asked the OSG to present evidence that the current zonal value of the property is at P200 per square meter.

Montero also said the writ of possession would be released when the P1,800 per square meter would be paid. Libiran said they filed a motion for reconsideration then.

"They asked the OSG to withdraw the motion for reconsideration because there was an approval [to raise the zonal valuation]. If they didn't delay the issuance of the writ of possession, we could have acquired the property prior to the approval of the raise," she said.

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Next steps? The DOTr had asked on August 1 for an extension of 60 days to file the appeal at the CA.

If the CA does not rule in the department's favor, the MRT7 completion might be stalled again.

"If we pay roughly P598 million, we would already take 56% of the ROW budget for this year. How about other projects? We might have to seek the approval of NEDA again which would further delay the project," Libiran said.

She also said 45 of 108 train cars for the railway system are ready to be imported, pending the completion of the depot.

After previous delays, construction of the project had begun in April 2016.

The 23-kilometer railway system, which will run from North Avenue in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan, will have 14 train stations that will take 30 minutes to travel end-to-end.

It will be connected to the existing Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) and Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT1) via a common station along EDSA. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.