Department of Transportation (DOTr) Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan slammed Saturday his assistant secretary, Mark Tolentino, over his allegation that there were anomalies in the Mindanao Railway project.
Tolentino, in a press conference Friday, May 18, accused unnamed officials at the DOTr who were trying to “derail” the implementation of the railway project.
He also said that there was attempt Friday by some DOTr officials to stop him from holding the press conference.
But Batan, in a statement, said that Tolentino was not asked to stop from speaking, but he was only told to postpone the media briefing “to give deference to ongoing high level discussions about the best strategy to implement Mindanao Railway.”
“I would like to think that what we have here is a miscommunication, resulting from a person’s refusal to understand relevant issues, and what appears to be a trickle of malice,” he said.
He said that Tolentino was fully informed of the reason why he was asked to postpone his press conference.
“But he refused to listen and understand,” Batan stressed.
Tolentino wondered why some DOTr officials wanted to loan the first phase of the project amounting to P36 billion, considering that the fund was included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Tolentino even threatened to inform President Rodrigo Duterte about those DOTr officials who seemed to have “interest” in the project.
He also claimed that he had the support of a member of the family of the President. But he did not mention the name of the member of the First Family who gave him the blessing.
In the viber group for the media covering the DOTr, the agency posted a Facebook message of lawyer Manases Carpio, husband of presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte cautioning the public about Tolentino.
“Warning: Please be careful and be wary to an ASEC of the Dept of Transportaion a certain Mark Tolentino. This liar is claiming that he is incharge of the Mindanao Railway and is spreading lies that he has the blessing of the first family. WHAT!!! Do not ever use the first family in your shenanigans. May nalalaman ka pang presscon. Tigilan mo na yan! #namedropper#epal,” he said.
Batan explained that there is an ongoing multi-agency and government-to-government discussion aimed at evaluating whether to finance Phase 1 of Mindanao Railway with Official Development Assistance (ODA) from China.
Since China already expressed intent to finance the future phases of Mindanao Railway, there is concern that if Phase 1 is not implemented by China, it will be more difficult to get China’s support for the much longer future phases of the Mindanao Railway Project, he said.
“Discussions are ongoing among the economic managers and between two governments on how to best ensure that the entire Mindanao Railway is built (not just a small part of it), and at the same time ensuring fast completion. What we are working on building is as much as 1,500-km. of railways in Mindanao. We cannot afford to be short-sighted, especially when the objective is that big,” Batan said.
“These are the issues that are being discussed in ongoing high level discussions, which is why Asec. Tolentino was instructed to postpone his press con. The discussions are likely to be completed by next week, but apparently that’s too long for Asec. Tolentino to wait,” he explained.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board approved the Mindanao Railway project in June 2017.
The Phase 1 of the project, which is targeted to start construction this year, involves a 105-kilometer line that is expected to reduce travel time from Davao del Norte to Davao del Sur from 3.5 hours to just 1.3 hours. It will have eight stations: Tagum, Carmen, Panabo, Mudiang, Davao Terminal, Toril, Sta. Cruz, and Digos.
It forms part of the entire 1,530-kilometer circumferential and spur rail lines that will connect Davao provinces, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, and Zamboanga. It is targeted for completion by 2021.