By Delfin T. Mallari Jr. | Inquirer Southern Luzon | October 26, 2014

LUCENA CITY—With the current mess surrounding the operation of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3), the militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Saturday called for the scrapping of the planned MRT-7 project.

“The current fiasco surrounding the MRT-3 is one more good reason to scrap the planned MRT-7 project,” KMP chair Rafael Mariano said in a statement.

MRT-3 is currently suffering from one accident after another prompting top transport officials to propose that the national government buy it from its current owners, which got the rail system under a build-operate-transfer contract under the administration of former President Fidel Ramos.

A key ally of President Aquino at the Senate, however, said the planned buyout, which would cost at least P54 billion, would not be a guarantee that rail services would improve.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chair of the powerful Senate committee on finance, said the price tag is too high without any assurance that services would improve.

In a statement, Escudero said he was not convinced that paying P54 billion to buy the MRT-3 system “is what we need at this time.”

In his statement, Escudero quoted Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya as saying the buyout would not result in immediate improvement of train services, which could come only after the government is able to bid out the contract for a new maintenance provider for the railway system.

He said the amount allotted for the buyout in next year’s budget is unprogrammed and would actually come from a loan.

Escudero also questioned how the Department of Transportation and Communications arrived at the P54-billion figure. “Where did DOTC get that figure? Who did they talk to?” the senator said.

He said the money should be best used for the delivery of more essential services to the public.

The KMP’s opposition to the proposed MRT-7 is rooted in allegations of land-grabbing involving more than 300 hectares of agricultural land and displacement of thousands of farmers in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.

“Why is the MRT-7 designed to traverse and enter the still contested agricultural lands? Why are the farmers not consulted? What is the government’s plan for the farmers and urban poor that will be evicted and demolished in the course of building the 14 stations?” Mariano said in the KMP statement.