To ease traffic gridlock, Philippine subway builder eyes ferries

Cecilia Yap and Clarissa Batino | Bloomberg | Manila, Philippines

Jakarta, posted: Mon, August 27, 2018 | 05:15 pm

Vehicles stuck in traffic in Manila on December 14, 2017. The Philippines has passed a tax reform bill at the heart of President Rodrigo Duterte's economic agenda, officials said, raising levies on coal, cars, soft drinks and cosmetic surgeries to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure. NOEL CELIS / AFP(AFP/Noel Celis)

To ease traffic congestion in the Philippines’ main financial center, there’s no way to go but underground and afloat, said businessman Antonio Tiu, who is leading a venture for one of two subway projects in the capital region.

IRC Properties Inc., Tiu’s venture with Chinese and Hong Kong companies for a $3.7 billion underground system in Metro Manila’s Makati City, has also submitted an offer to run and upgrade the rickety Pasig River ferry service, he said in an interview on Aug. 25. The ferry system would help drain traffic from Makati City while the subway gets built, said Tiu, 43.

The Philippine capital is struggling to loosen the gridlock that is costing the economy 3.5 billion pesos ($65.5 million) a day because of insufficient infrastructure to serve 13 million people and three million vehicles. Shares of IRC have more than doubled this year as it’s taken steps toward a prominent role in the upgrade effort, helping it morph from a property developer into an infrastructure company.

“To solve the traffic, the only way to go is down and above water,” Tiu said.

The subway can remove 270,000 cars from the roads daily, and help transport 700,000 of Makati City’s daytime population of 5 million, most of them workers, Tiu said. The district is the main business center in Metro Manila and the entire country.

The venture plans to break ground on the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) subway before year-end and complete it by 2024. The government is also building a 30-kilometer underground railway cutting across several cities.

IRC’s Makati City consortium is set to include Greenland Holdings Corp. and China Harbour Engineering Co., Tiu said. The composition of the consortium, which may include Makati City, will be finalized in three months. Half of the funding needed is already secured and more investors are expected, Tiu said. IRC may also sell the equivalent of $500 million in preferred shares, he said.

Tiu has close ties with the family of Makati City Mayor Abigail Binay, who has held the role since 2016. His businesses were sidelined by tax-evasion and money-laundering allegations during the previous administration, and both charges have since been dismissed by courts, he said.

Another of Tiu’s companies, AgriNurture Inc., has offered to supply 500,000 tons of rice quarterly to state-owned National Food Authority to ensure steady supply of the staple grain and help curb inflation, he said. Tiu’s also planning to list his company that makes fresh juices, The Big Chill Inc., on the stock exchange this year.

Shares of AgriNurture have risen 41 percent this year while IRC’s gain makes it one of the best-performing stocks in the Philippines in 2018.

— With assistance by Ian C Sayson

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Philippines subway traffic-jam