By ANNA MAE LAMENTILLO
Critics of the administration recently pointed out that over 180,000 families will be displaced in Metro Manila should the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road Project and the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) Project push through. This claim is fictitious, inaccurate, and misleading.
For example, based on the census and tagging conducted by the National Housing Authority, the government agency mandated to relocate and resettle Informal Settler Families (ISFs) affected by the construction of national infrastructure projects, the estimated number of likely affected ISFs in the NLEX – SLEX Connector Road Project is only 1700.
When completed, the NLEX-SLEX Connector Project, an 8-km expressway from C3 Road in Caloocan City to PUP in Sta. Mesa, Manila, to the common alignment of Skyway Stage 3, will reduce travel time between SLEX and NLEX from 2 hours to only 20 minutes.
Moreover, according to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), what critics appear to lump together as the NSCR Project consists of four different projects, namely: PNR Clark 1 (38-km, Tutuban-Malolos), PNR Clark 2 (51-km, Malolos-Clark), PNR Calamba (56-km, Manila-Calamba), and PNR Bicol (653-km, Manila-Matnog; Batangas).
Currently, the Philippines only has 76.9 kilometers of operational railways. The government targets to build and lay the groundwork for approximately 1,900 kilometers of railways by 2022 and beyond, which will benefit around 4.5 million passengers per day.
In a joint statment, Department of Public Works and Highways and DOTr noted that ISF affected by the NSCR projects are not confined to 38 barangays in Manila, but are rather spread across Region III (Central Luzon), National Capital Region, Region IV-A (Calabarzon), and Region V (Bicol).
It is also stressed that contrary to the figure presented by certain critics, the estimated number of likely affected ISFs is 344 for PNR Clark 1; 1,173 for PNR Clark 2; 11,384 for PNR Calamba; and 1,700 for the NLEX-SLEX Connector Project. For PNR Bicol, the previous estimate of 79,531 ISFs will be greatly reduced because of the DOTr and PNR’s approach of exploring re-alignments to avoid displacement of persons, to minimize conflict with road traffic and structures, and to straighten curves to achieve faster operating speeds.
Even assuming the number of affected ISFs for PNR Bicol is not reduced (which it will), the total number of affected ISFs at 94,132 across four regions is far apart from the estimation provided.
Further, all four phases of the NSCR Project are separately financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and China.
As with other ADB and JICA financed projects, borrower countries such as the Philippines are required to ensure compliance not just with all applicable local laws and regulations on land acquisition and resettlement, but also with the ADB’s Safeguard Policy Statement and JICA’s Guidelines for Social Considerations. This means that part of project preparation and implementation is a comprehensive evaluation of the project’s potential social impact, and the implementation of measures that will ensure that affected persons are left “no worse off,” as required under ADB and JICA Social Safeguards.
It bears repeating that these projects are long overdue, and are ultimately meant to alleviate the decades-long suffering of thousands of Filipino commuters in Luzon. Moreover, these projects are poised to economically transform the regions, ferrying in commerce, and increasing incomes faster than before.
The DOTr and the DPWH, under the Duterte administration, remain steadfast in its goal of giving a better life for all Filipinos, and will not be diverted by criticisms anchored on false and misleading data.