Groups said North and South Railways Projects induce unemployment, involuntary displacement, and more debts

MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of people affected by the controversial North and South Railways Modernization projects staged a protest outside the Philippine National Railways (PNR), a few hours after Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited the state corporation here today.

In the protest rally, members of the Task Force Diskaril — a loose advocacy group organized by the People Against Illegitimate Debt (PAID!) and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) — underscored the Arroyo government’s modernization of PNR, claiming that said projects have only resulted in job insecurity of PNR workers, involuntary displacement of many urban poor communities, and further indebtedness of an already debt-burdened populace.

Retrenchment and Privatization

Members of Bagong Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa PNR (BKM), the duly recognized union of PNR workers lambasted the government’s effort to privatize PNR by pushing Executive Order 366.

The EO 366 mandates all departments and agencies of the executive branch, as well as government-owned and -controlled corporations, to scale down, phase out, abolish, deactivate, merge, consolidate and regularize any and all agencies that do not deliver “quality public service.”

However, the order is tantamount to the massive retrenchment of regular government workers, according to BKM President Armando Cruz, maintaining that the modernization project coupled with retrenchment are but stepping-stones to a much higher goal which is to sell PNR to the private sector.

“Malacanang’s storyline is getting clearer. Truly, the bottom line is privatization. Like how our government sold management and regulation of public utilities such as water and power, they are now doing the same thing with our public railways,” Cruz said.
Cruz also stressed that railway service is a natural monopoly which must be in the hands of the public.

“The push for privatization will not only displace many regular workers in a time of a grueling economic crisis, it will also result in the absence of any public accountability and regulation of a very strategic transport system important to economic development,” Cruz asserted.

Displacement and death zones

For her part, Clarita Eneria, spokesperson of Lakas at Ugnayan ng Mamamayan laban sa Kahirapan (Lumaban Ka) said they are not against progress and development.

“In fact, we say that we totally favor a modern and efficient public transport system. What we are against are projects claiming to be in the side of modernity yet, are so detrimental to the poor’s interest and welfare,” Eneria said.

Eneria, also a member of Task Force Diskaril, said communities affected by the Northrail project were forcibly evicted without proper relocation sites.

“They were promised relocation sites and job opportunities in exchange for their displacement but what was given to them was worse. If before they were in danger zones — living dangerously near the railway tracks — after the implementation of the Northrail project, our fellow urban poor families are now in death zones,” Eneria said.

The groups said aside from the unfulfilled promise of employment, affected families of the North Luzon Railway Project were haphazardly transferred to relocation sites that were lacking in basic electricity and water services such as in Bulacan. They also said many of the houses offered to the affected families were badly built and that some families were relocated to areas near landfills and even close to a cemetery.

Eneria feared that the same thing would happen to the urban poor communities which will be affected by the South Luzon Railways Project.

Further “Indebtedness”

For its part, FDC demanded the immediate cancellation of the obviously illegitimate North Luzon Railways Project and the suspension of the South Railways project pending an impartial and comprehensive investigation of the matter.

The debt watchdog said the Northrail project had already been exposed as having numerous legal infirmities and procurement anomalies, aside from being allegedly overpriced.

On the other hand, the South Luzon Railways project is challenged with serious accusations of anomalies such as the ones lodged by Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, the group said.

“Truth be said, these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more of these illegitimate deals and debts that are being incurred by our government, hidden from public scrutiny, milking cows of unscrupulous public officials and instruments of the people’s further indebtedness,"  said Milo Tanchuling, FDC Secretary General.

Tanchuling also said in lieu of the economic crunch, projects and programs of the government should generate more jobs, provide more services, and social opportunities for the people, not the other way around.

FDC is calling for the passage of House Joint Resolution No. 4 calling for the creation of a Congressional Debt Commission that will audit all public debt and contingent liabilities, which it said, will fundamentally determine the illegitimacy of many of our country’s debts and loan agreements that must be canceled and/or repudiated. -30-

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