By Jess Diaz | The Philippine Star | September 19, 2015

MANILA, Philippines - The government is still planning to buy out private investors in Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3), the rail line along Edsa, to allow it to completely take over and manage the facility.

“Buyout remains an option,” Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has told reporters.

Abaya, together with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, are looking at how the government could proceed with the plan to compensate private investors.

“We will have to involve Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which hold about 80 percent of the debt papers of MRT-3,” he said.

Abaya said there is an “appropriation authorization” in the 2015 budget the administration could use to pursue the buyout option.

He added the buyout-takeover plan has to be finished this year or next year before the term of President Aquino expires on June 30, 2016.

“We want to finish it so that my successor and the incoming administration will have no headache in running the Edsa rail line. There will be no interference from private parties,” he stressed.

Abaya has blamed the deterioration of MRT-3 on private investors led by Robert John Sobrepeña of financially troubled pre-need firm College Assurance Plans and Camp John Jay Development Corp., which the government has been trying to evict from Camp John Hay with little success.

The Edsa rail system is frequently breaking down. The Department of Transportation and Communications tried to procure 48 new light rail vehicles or coaches but private investors obtained a temporary restraining order from a Makati court, which eventually lifted it.

A prototype of the new LRVs has arrived and is now being tested.

Last year, the President, upon Abaya’s recommendation, sought P54 billion from Congress for the MRT-3 buyout-takeover.

The House of Representatives approved the funding, but the Senate finance committee, then headed by Sen. Francis Escudero, scrapped it.

Escudero said he did not believe the buyout-takeover plan would solve the problems plaguing MRT-3.

Abaya said there is no allocation in the proposed P3-trillion 2016 national budget for the buyout of the Edsa rail line.

“But we could still ask Secretary Abad or the House to include it if needed,” he said.