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Philippines revives major Chinese-backed rail project
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Oct 7, 2011

The Philippines said Friday that it plans to revive a cancelled China-funded rail project as part of a major $11.5 billion infrastructure-building programme over the next five years.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas said the 80-kilometre (50-mile) North Rail project, originally shelved over corruption claims, would allow the country's main aviation gateway to be moved out of congested central Manila.

"We have nearly half a trillion pesos' ($11.5 billion) worth of projects over the next five years. The government approach is to use the financial mechanism that is low-cost, effective and efficient," he told reporters.

Among them would be a rail system likely costing at least $1 billion to provide fast, cheap transport between Manila and the former US air force base of Clark, which would become the country's main port of entry, he said.

It had originally been launched by previous Philippine president Gloria Arroyo with a $400 million Chinese state loan in 2004, but she later cancelled the project amid allegations her aides took kickbacks to get it started.

President Benigno Aquino, who took over last year, decided to revive it after getting senior Chinese leaders to agree to reconfigure the funding terms as well as the design during his state visit to China last month, Roxas said.

"They (Chinese leadership) said they were open to this. They directed the responsible ministry, the ministry of transport, to thrash this out with counterparts in the (Philippines)," Roxas added.

"Manila airport, as it exists today, is already at full capacity. We can't accommodate more flights because the runway only accommodates 36 events per hour, and 40 are already scheduled."

Passengers are left to endure long aircraft queues for take-offs and landings, which could eventually become a potential safety issue, he added.

Roxas said the infrastructure programme also calls for building extensions of Manila's light rail systems to nearby suburbs, three provincial airports, and improving capacities at major provincial ports.

The government would tap cheap loans from foreign governments, sign concession agreements with private sector firms to build or run some of the projects, and government funds or combinations of the three, he added.

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