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This article seeks to be the most comprehensive record of the Mindanao Railway Project timeline. It was last updated on September 24, 2022.

It originally started as a collection of legislative efforts that have sought to create the Mindanao Railway System over the decades. This list can be found here.

Here, we will broaden the scope of the study. It will now cover activities of all relevant branches of government, and even encompass developments with indirect impact on the project.

This article will be updated, over time, with additional details as they become available.

 

Pre-war

President Manual Quezon revealed plans for a Mindanao Railway in press releases issued in May 1936. The electric railway would have run between what was previously called "Cagayan de Misamis" and the "Province of Davao". Power for the railway was to have been provided by a hydro-electric plant that was proposed at the Maria Christina Falls. Click image to enlarge.

There were, however, other smaller railways in Mindanao that were setup for more-modest purposes.

Davao Penal Colony railway

As related by Antonio Figueroa in an article on Edge Davao, the Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL) -- which was established in 1931 -- had a railway that consisted of a narrow-gauge system with a diesel locomotive. It was used to transport DAPECOL inmates to a rice field which they worked as they served their sentences. When the Philippines fell to Japan in WWII, DAPECOL was also used to intern American Prisoners of War (POW) and consequently this railway was used to transport American soldiers as directed by their Japanese captors.

The Mindanao Railway Project Office used the following photograph of the DAPECOL train that President Quirino used in a visit. This photo was included in the MRPO's presentation at the 3rd Philippine Railway Summit, where it described the railway as the first government-owned railway in Mindanao.

 

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1944 - 1950

This is a period of post-WWII rebuilding. During this time, the Roxas and Quirino administrations grappling with the challenges recovering lost infrastructure, re-establishing the country's economy and adjusting to the transition to independence from US rule.

Click the image to enlarge.

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1950 - 1956

The Quirino administration issued Proclamation No 182, on the 1st of May 1950, reserved a parcel of land in the Municipality of Kidapawan for use by the Manila Railroad Company for "railroad right-of-way" purposes. The actual purpose of this parcel of land is currently unclear. 

Click the image to enlarge. 

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1956 - 1962

Railway activities for this period were focused on maintaining and operating the existing railway network. Thus far, no activity related to the Mindanao Railway is known for these years.

Click the image to enlarge.

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1962 - 1968

In 1964, the Philippine National Railway (PNR) was created by virtue of Republic Act 4156. The PNR absorbed the assets, grants, concessions, and franchises of the existing corporation known as the "Manila Railroad Company of the Philippine Islands". This law also dissolved the Manila Railroad Company.

Section 5 of this law allocated P50M for the survey and establishment of a railway in Mindanao. As of writing, however, details about how this authorization was used have proven difficult to locate.

Click image to enlarge.

 

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1968 - 1974

In August 16, 1971, Republic Act 6366 was passed to fund the rehabilitation and modernization of the Philippine National Railways. 

Like RA 4156, section 2 of this law allocated P50M for the survey and establishment of a railway in Mindanao. As of writing, however, details about how this authorization was used have proven difficult to locate. 

Click the image to enlarge.

 

 

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1974 - 1980

The entirety of this period took place during Marcos' Martial Law. This is the rationale for the grey background. This six-year stretch also marked a low point in the history of efforts to create a railway in Mindanao.

Presidential Decree No. 741, signed in July 1975, amended the Republic Act that created the Philippine National Railways. Unlike previous enabling laws for the PNR -- RA 4156 and RA 6366 -- Section 2 of this decree amended the railway company's charter to read as follow:

“(b) To own or operate railroad trainways, bus lines, trucklines, subways, and other kinds of land transportation, vessels, and pipelines, for the purposes of transporting for consideration, passengers, mail and property between any points in the Philippines;”

The Mindanao Railway, and the funding allocated for it in previous laws, had been omitted. The railway was no longer a national priority.

In September 1978, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) published its 5-year development plan, which also included a 10-year railway development plan.

 

The plan reflected the priority set by the amended PNR law. No funds were set aside for the development of the railway and the feasibility study was described as "pending".

Pending feasibility studies Planned railway investments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1980 - 1986

Like the previous period, no advances were made with the Mindanao Railway. This state affairs, however, was actually emblematic of the state of railways in the Philippines as a whole. Existing railways in Luzon were experiencing a period of decline. The following Philippine Daily Express article from 1983 was shared by Gorio Belen on the Philippine Railway Historical Society FB page.

Prevailing national attitudes towards railways made the creation of an all-new, from scratch, railway in Mindanao a very difficult proposition.

 

Click the image to enlarge. 

 

 

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1986 - 1992

This period was dominated by legislative efforts aimed at urging the Aquino administration to restart studies for a railway in Mindanao. The first bill in favor of establishing a Mindanao Railway, written under the new 1987 constitution, was House Bill 03788, titled "Act Creating the Mindanao Railways Authority". Congressman Antonio H. Cerilles submitted this bill on November 23, 1987. Two other similar bills were authored during this administration.

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1992 - 1998

President Fidel Ramos returned the Mindanao Railway to the national agenda. 

On December 15, 1992, Ramos signed Memorandum Circular No.23 directed formulation of Medium-Term Philippine Dev't Plan 1993-1998. Section 4.4.2 of this plan in focused on Transportation. Sub-paragraph "M" called for a feasibility study for the Mindanao Railway, under a Built Operate Transfer (BOT) arrangement.

 


Click image to enlarge.

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1998 - 2004

President Joseph Estrada created the Presidential Committee on Flagship Programs and Projects to identify projects for the administration. On October 7, 1998 the committee directed the Philippine National Railways, Public Estates Authority, and the Southern Philippine Development Authority to conduct preparatory studies for the Mindanao Railway System.

On June 28, 1999, Estrada signed Administrative Order 74, series of 1999 which allocated P10M to the Mindanao Rail System Task Force to, as stated in the order to:

. . . act as the clearing house for policy and operational issues affecting the implementation of the MRS Project

However, on February 11, 2002 -- after Estrada's impeachment the year before -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 72, series 2002 which abolished the MRS Task Force. Later, however, Arroyo replaced the task force with another organization.

 

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2004 - 2010

On May 25, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 536 which created the Cebu Railway Project Office (CRPO) and the Mindanao Railway Project Office (MRPO) under the control of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC). Both were charged formulating plans for, identifying funding mechanisms for, and developing, railways in Metro Cebu and Mindanao respectively.

The EO specified that the MRPO was established in Cagayan de Oro City.

Towards the end of the Arroyo administration, a feasibility study for a railway from Cagayan de Oro City to Iligan City was completed. This document later became part of the body of knowledge used for a more comprehensive study initiated in 2015. The following image is c/o of Cong Rufus Rodriguez.

 

Click image to enlarge.

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2010 - 2016

President Aquino signed Executive Order No. 8 on 9th of September that created the Public-Private Partnership Center and transferred Build-Operate-Transfer projects under this umbrella. This order also affirmed the administration's position that this was the favored approach for pursuing government projects. In line with prevailing views regarding Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), the Mindanao Dev't Authority published Mindanao 2020 Peace & Development Plan proposed a railway from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan via PPP in November 2010.

The National Economic Dev't Authority (NEDA) -- which oversaw the PPP center -- published the Terms of Reference (TOR) for a feasibility study for the Mindanao Railway in April 2015, and then issued a bid invitation for consultancy services for the same in June of the same year.

 

This study built upon the work of past feasibility studies, which the TOR enumerated:

During this period, little if anything was published about the Mindanao Railway Project Office that had been created by the previous administration. However a request by Sen Aquilino Pimentel to President Aquino to transfer responsibility of the Mindanao Railway from the Land Transportation & Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to the Philippine National Railway implied a shift in Malacanang's attitude towards the project. 

 

Timeline: Legislative and executive activities

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2016 - 2022

Prior to this period, the term "Mindanao Railway" had been synonymous with efforts of northern Mindanao politicians to push for the establishment of a railway for their constituents. While there had always been plan for a circumferential railway around Mindanao, the expected starting point for the project had, in years past, centered on Cagayan de Oro. This was not surprising given the origins of the authors of past legislative efforts.

However, the Duterte administration shifted the focal point of the project to southern Mindanao. At the 3rd Philippine Railway Summit in October 21, 2022, the DOTr presented the following railway plan. Phase 1 was now in the Tagum-Davao-Digos segment, while Northern Mindanao had been relegated to the 4th Phase of the project. 

 

 

Pundits had attributed this change to regionalism. However, the following article takes an objective, in-depth look, into the rationale behind the move. Focusing on the economics of such a design, with a keen eye on what major city would be connected next in Phase 2. 

The efforts during this administration resulted in the only NEDA-approved, finalized, design for the Mindanao Railway Project and detailed environmental impact study.

 

This 2016-2022 interval saw an unprecedented level of activity for the Mindanao Railway. So much so that it was not practical to combine legislative and executive activities in the same timeline-graphic. They had to be separated.

Timeline: Legislative activities

Between 2016 and 2022, no less than 20 bills were filed in support of Mindanao Railway. The only other period with this much legislative support was the Arroyo period -- which lasted 9 years. Longer that a normal term. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

While bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives were, by this point, a staple of virtually every post-Martial Law Congress, legislative activity at the city and municipal level were noteworthy. Arguably these local initiatives had the most tangible impact on the project since they enabled key DOTr activities within the jurisdictions of these Local Government Units.

Among the more noteworthy LGU efforts was the no-build zone ordinance enacted by the City of Panabo. This was crafted to ensure that no building or business permits would be issued to any entity within the railway's alignment. The relevant Panabo ordinance can be seen here.

 

Timeline: Executive activities

The most significant development from this period was the finalization of the railway alignment for the first phase of the Mindanao Railway -- Phase 1 was now to begin with the Tagum-Davao-Digos segment of the railway -- as well as the selection of the Project Management Consultant (PMC), who would be responsible for the actual management of the Mindanao Railway Project on behalf of the Department of Transportation. Typical of projects that are opened up for bidding, the PMC contract went through many starts and stops, all of which are chronicled in this article.

As of writing, the Design & Build Contract, which which would signal the start of actual work on the ground, has not yet been selected by the PMC.

 

Click image to enlarge.

 

Clearing the right-of-way

This period also marked the point at which Mindanaoans become aware of consequences of the selected railway alignment. The MRP was being built from scratch, in a place which never had a railway before. Making way for the railway's right of way meant that people were going to lose their homes.

In 2018, the DOTr started placing markers on affected properties within the right-of-way for the project. The following photographs shared by Mindanao Railway Watcher community members were typical.

In Tigatto, Davao City Baliok, Toril

 

In 2019, the DOTr start affixing tags on affected structures to catalogue them for compensation. A sample of these tags appears below. The meaning of these tags appear here.

 

 

Community members started receiving Notices of Taking (NOT) and Requests for Donation in 2020.

 

The actual Offers To Buy (OTB) and Deeds of Absolute Sale (DOAS) didn't start going out till 2021. These are samples of OTBs in Panabo and Davao City

 

This is a DOAS given to a property owner in Davao City.

 

The first batch of payments to property owner were made in 2022. The City of Tagum published the following photo of a beneficiary award even on the 28th of February 2022.

 

 

As of writing, there remained a significant number of affected property owners that had not even received their Notices of Taking yet -- for one reason or another. 

 

Resettlement sites

Affected property owners, formally referred to as Project Affected Persons (PAP), had the option to avail of replacement housing at resettlement sites in their home cities. The Local Government Units (LGU) and the National Housing Authority set aside the following housing developments for this purpose. See here

Select details of the resettlement site in Tagum, called the Tagumpay Train Village, are shown below.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Tagumpay Train Village took place on 22nd of June 2022. The image below is a screen capture of the ceremony, showing the dropping of the time capsule for the project. The banner for the event is shown in the background.

 

Details for the Panabo resettlement site, called Relampagos Village 2 & 3, here.

 

 

 

2022 - 2028

On July 15, 2022, Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez issued the following comprehensive update regarding the state of the by then still-pending loan applications to China. The Philippines either had to re-apply for the loans or seek alternative funding.

Statement of DOTr Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez

Re China ODA Rail Projects

 

Pursuant to the applicable Executive Agreements between the Government of the Philippines (GoP) and the Government of the People's Republic of China (GoPRC), the DOTr has procured and awarded contracts for the Subic-Clark Railway Project's (SCRP) Engineering, Procurement, Construction, and Commissioning (EPCC) Contractor, the PNR South Long Haul (SLH) Project's Design-Build (DB) Contractor, and the Mindanao Railway Project's (MRP) Project Management Consultant (PMC).

 

Following DOTr's award and signing of the above contracts, and also pursuant to the applicable GoP-GoPRC Executive Agreements, DOTr endorsed the contracts to the DOF for the DOF to submit and negotiate the corresponding Loan Applications with GoPRC.

 

In 2021-2022, DOF submitted Loan Applications to China Eximbank for the SCRP EPCC Contract and the PNR SLH DB Contract, among other contracts awarded by other GOP Implementing Agencies.

 

In May 2022, DOF informed China Eximbank that the submitted Loan Applications will only be valid up to 31 May 2022, and that if the Loan Applications are not approved, then the Loan Applications shall be automatically withdrawn. DOTr understands that this is in light of the upcoming transition of government, and in deference to the incoming administration.

 

The Loan Applications for the SCRP EPCC Contract and the PNR SLH DB Contract were not approved as of 31 May 2022. Accordingly, in June 2022, the DOF advised China Eximbank that the Loan Applications for these contracts, among other contracts of other Implementing Agencies, are deemed automatically withdrawn.

 

In his text message to me this morning, former Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez said that he "cancelled the application instead of keeping it in suspended animation."

 

Considering the withdrawal of the previous Loan Applications, the current DOTr leadership immediately wrote and coordinated with DOF to initiate policy discussions on the way forward for the above 3 China ODA Rail Projects.

 

Policy discussion on the way forward for the above 3 China ODA Rail Projects has also been initiated at the July 12 Cabinet Meeting, during which PBBM commented that as a matter of policy, we should encourage more investment in rail, and that we should focus more on rail in transport.

 

Timeline: Legislative activities

 

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Timeline: Executive activities

 

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