By Darwin G. Amojelar | The Standard | December 6, 2015

The Transportation Department is still confident of taking over Metro Rail Transit Line 3 within the next six months, or before the end of the term of the Aquino administration.

“It’s still a priority. There’s an executive order to execute. We hope [to implement it] soon,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said in a recent interview.

President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 126 in 2013, directing the Transportation and Finance Departments to buy Metro Rail Transit Corp. out of MRT 3, pursuant to the build-lease-transfer agreement.

Abaya said the remaining challenge was the financial issue raised by Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, regarding possible losses once the government executed the buyout.

“[But] we are finding out what methodology to adopt to address their concerns. We have to sit with them,” Abaya said.

LandBank and DBP own a combined 80-percent economic interest in MRT 3, while the remaining stake is held by creditors of MRTC.

Abaya earlier said the government would need over P40 billion to take over MRT 3 today, down from as high as P53.9 billion two years ago.

“It [EVBO] has been lowered because we pay almost half a billion a month for equity rental payments,” he said.

Metro Pacific Investments Corp. earlier proposed a $524-million expansion of MRT 3, which was lower than the government’s $1.13-billion buyout plan. MPIC’s proposal is still pending with the Transportation Department.

Metro Pacific signed a cooperation agreement in 2011 with various groups holding rights and interests in MRT 3, including MRTC, Metro Rail Transit Holdings Inc., Metro Rail Transit 2 Inc. and Monumento Rail Transit Corp., giving the company led by businessman Manuel Pangilinan an option to acquire 48 percent. Metro Pacific has yet to exercise the option.

MRT 3, which runs along Edsa from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, serves 500,000 passengers a day, beyond its rated capacity of 350,000 passengers.

The line has a fleet of 73 Czech-made air-conditioned rail cars.