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PNR’s total privatization problematic

/ 08:22 PM April 23, 2012

This is in response to the article, “PNR dead in its tracks,” by contributor Apolonio G. Ramos (Inquirer, 4/14/12).

The article’s main premise is that a modern railway system is “a vital factor in enhancing the economic development of the country.” It goes on to say in the same sentence that the Philippine National Railways is “in its death throes, and resources applied to its resurrection is tantamount to investing in a sink hole.”

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It proposes the PNR’s complete privatization. Or, it adds, “get other countries interested in the venture, especially those with well-established and modern railway systems,” and concludes that the PNR is “dead in its tracks.”

But the PNR’s rumored death would seem a strange notion to the thousands of passengers clamoring for it to increase its initial trips and trains during its present rehabilitation. The Christmas, Holy Week and September Peñafrancia Festival peak seasons in the past two years are witnesses to the PNR barely responding to demand.

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Bicolanos can speak for themselves about this. They wonder how such an apparent miracle as the resurrection of their beloved trains and railroad could happen after decades of neglect. And all these within the past two years under the leadership of President Aquino and Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas.

There is really no debate on privatization of some kind. But complete privatization is problematic. Let us make some distinctions about motivations for investment. Private business is always driven by profit. That is its raison d’etre. Government invests in a nation’s economic assets and public utilities driven by its service mandate.

Government can share, as it does, in grand visions for a modern railway network connecting the cardinal points of Luzon, or even of the whole archipelago. But to leave it completely to private business to build railroad lines to unprofitable out-of-the-way places might be too much to expect.

Even Japan’s famous Shinkanzen network was conceived and initiated by Japan National Railways in the 1930s, and not by Sony or Mitsubishi. India’s extensive but aging railway system, a legacy of British rule, should have stopped running if it were left to the private sector. Railways crisscross Europe because of government initiative. There are very few railway systems in the world that are privately owned.

The Aquino administration advocates public-private partnership for big public-utility projects such as the railroad and transport. It is working now for the PNR. And the PNR is earning its keep, not to make profit but to make its operations sustainable for the thousands of passengers in South Luzon and Bicol it now serves, and even those in the north who await the full rehabilitation of the North Line.

The PNR is running. Despite those who would kill it or strip it of its assets, it is not dead. Indeed, it has been reborn. With private-sector participation, let us keep it on track to ultimate modernization and global standards, to better serve all Filipinos.

—JUNIO M. RAGRAGIO,

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general manager,

Philippine National Railways,

PNR Executive Building,

Mayhaligue Street,

Tondo, Manila 1000

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TAGS: letters, Philippine National Railways, privatization
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