Rough Cuts: A Duterte legacy or a disappointment?

According to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) it is instituting some changes in the plan of the much awaited and over-hyped Mindanao Railway project.

And these changes are made only on the structure and design of the 102-kilometer Tagum-Davao City-Digos City segment.

The DOTr wants the segment to be built for dual track and electricity-operated train from the original single track and diesel-powered system. The latter is the design approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) but which is objected to by the local government units and some political leaders.

Unfortunately, these changes in the design specifications would mean an increase in its original budget of P35 billion to P90 billion. That’s more than twice the original cost.

But the bigger question is, what would be the implication of the changes on the earlier approval of the P35 billion segment of the project? Will the revised project specifications require another round of negotiations with the NEDA board? Our hunch is, it will, considering the huge addition to the original budget. And experience will tell us that it is in the process of getting the NEDA to approve big ticket projects that needs the longest time for waiting, considering that such changes involve huge amount of money.

Now, wait. The Mindanao Railway Project appeared to have gained a huge leap when the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, a Mindanaoan, set in the middle of 2016. The President has now consumed two years of his six-year term. Still, the multi-billion project that is expected to hasten the development of Mindanao, remains in its “talking stage.” Meaning, those concerned in making the project come true are still talking about it; making some revisions of the plan and budget; and “fixing” the diverse positions of local political leaders on the project itself.

With these prevailing issues haunting the project which are clearly affecting the timetable of its implementation, we are wont to believe that even the start of the Tagum City-Davao City-Digos City segment of the railway cannot be started within the next two years.

Hence, it would probably be a significant accomplishment for the DOTr, or the government for that matter, if right-of-way problems are already settled this year and next. And possibly, it could be a major performance if the DOTr can lay some rail tracks in a five to ten kilometer distance.

With the prevailing status of the project, our hope that the Mindanao Railway Project can become a proud legacy of the Mindanaoan President when he steps down from office is slowly dimming. We are even starting to entertain the idea that it can become his monumental disappointment.

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Early last week Department of Budget Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno disclosed that there are close to half a million job opportunities in the government bureaucracy still unmet. Majority of these are in the Education Department, mostly teachers. Unfortunately, the process of filling up these teaching positions is the one hindering the employment of the many qualified teachers.

If you’d ask us why, consider these:

First, a qualified applicant, even if he/she is a top-ranked passer of the Licensure Examinations for Teachers (LET), or in the upper bracket of the division ranking, he/she has to get a more stringent “requirement” that the human resource officers of the Department of Education will first seek out. This is the endorsement from the Office of the Congressman where the school the applicant wants to apply is located. And even if the applicant’s other documentary requirements can very well vouch for his/her qualifications, all of these are often negated if that congressional endorsement is absent.

Of course it is part of patronage politics. The bigger the number of teachers feeling “indebted” to his/her congressman for his/her employment, the stronger the feeling of assurance of the congressman that more families will be at his back come election time.

But we have found out that even getting the endorsement of the congressional office is not one easy work for the teacher-applicant. He/she has to get letters of recommendation from this and that political leader of the sitting congressman before he can call on the congressional district office.

And when finally an applicant gets the needed recommendation, often times he or she is confronted with the non-availability of the person in-charge in the office. So another series of delays in the procurement of the congressional endorsement starts another cycle.

So, should we be surprised if the thousands of teaching position vacancies remain unfilled for years?

Posted in Opinion