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DOTC: Powered by press releases

If issuing press releases will bring about better commuter trains, new and rehabilitated airports and a Category 1 upgrade for our aviation sector, we would be a model in the region instead of a basket case. The DOTC folks are experts in hype… in keeping our hopes high and in making us believe they are up to the mandate entrusted to them.

They have had a number of Secretaries in the almost three years of the Aquino watch and nothing has changed. DOTC is a department that can’t seem to get their projects going. And with time running out fast for this administration, it is unlikely they will deliver anything that looks like a good legacy accomplishment for P-Noy to leave behind.

But one thing you cannot accuse the DOTC Secretary, whoever it may be at the moment, is an inability to make promises… of the kind they cannot keep. Last Wednesday, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told participants of the Philippines’ year-end Economic Briefing (year-end?) that they will bring down the benefits of the public-private partnership (PPP) ventures to the countryside to address the needs of the poor.

 Sounds good… a good sound bite… a good headline for the next day’s newspapers. But anyone who has followed closely how DOTC operates must know fully well they are incapable of delivering projects they have in their pipeline now… and are in no position to open new projects anywhere else.

 Indeed, P-Noy already reduced the responsibility of DOTC so that they are only concerned with transportation these days. Communication is being handled somewhere else, at DOST, I think. Even then, the infrastructure agency staffed by lawyers rather than engineers, had been unable to get proper public biddings done.

The other week, I saw a news clip on television where the LTO chief was blaming DOTC for the problems they are having with the supplier of car plates. It was DOTC that conducted the bidding, the viewers were told, that resulted in a supplier unable to meet the quality standards required. In the background are stacks of presumably unusable car plates while new car owners are being harassed by traffic aides because they don’t have car plates.

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Still at LTO, the computerized record system is in peril, the current supplier hasn’t been paid for over a year now while DOTC is still unable to bid out a proper system. Then DOTC Sec. Mar Roxas had been talking about this system that links all agencies under the department. But nothing has progressed significantly beyond mere talk and yes… press releases.

Last Wednesday too, DOTC and the Budget department in Malacanang jointly announced the release of funds to complete the rehabilitation of NAIA Terminal 3. Before we get excited, bear in mind that funds release is not the same as project implementation. If you dig up past press releases, you will find out that Mar promised that rehab would be done by December last year. They haven’t even started today.

What they are telling us now is that they have the money to do the NAIA 3 rehab and are promising a December completion date. But until we see actual work being done and we can verify how fast they are doing it, everything is still in the realm of press releases. As of this writing, they have not even signed a deal with Takenaka, the Japanese contractor for the terminal.

Last Monday, it was the turn of Albay Governor Joey Salceda to complain about the DOTC. Gov. Joey couldn’t understand why four months after a bidding was held for the Bicol International Airport construction in Daraga, Albay, DOTC has yet to award the contract for the project.

I e-mailed Gov. Salceda and he rightfully complained that it took Sec. Ping de Jesus one year to review the project, Mar Roxas took another one year. A bidding was finally held on Oct. 24, 2012 with a floor price of P980 million, and a winning bid at P740 million. But no award has been made until now.

Gov. Joey complains that the airport project is now three years behind and the province could not afford to wait any longer for the DOTC to get going. “Our airports, roads and ports are bursting at the seams because our tourist arrivals have grown by 24 percent the last four years,” Salceda was reported by a news report to have said.

One bidder was reported to have sued. But DOTC has an army of lawyers. Why were they unable to avoid the suit and thereafter unable to resolve the issues related to the suit?

Sen. Gregorio Honasan is right. He has noticed this governance by press release explains why the people are not feeling the supposedly impressive GDP growth rate. He told the Inquirer, “it’s time we investigated the real cause of the delays in projects that had been given allocations by Congress years ago.”

Indeed! Governance by press release is not a sustainable strategy. It works for about 24 hours or less in terms of the next day’s headlines. But if done consistently, as DOTC is doing, but showing no progress on the ground, people realize they are being lied to. This contributes to a loss of credibility for the administration.

In a way, it is media’s fault DOTC and other government officials think they can get away with substituting performance with press releases. News reports hardly provide context. Columns sometimes do that but most opinion pieces are also just mere opinion pieces that do not provide the reader the ability to assess what the story really means.

For instance, that story about DOTC Sec. Abaya talking about bringing PPP to the community level means absolutely nothing even if it sounds good. I hate to use this word again so soon after Monday’s column, but what Abaya said is sheer bullshit.

DOTC doesn’t even know what to do with PPP as a concept. It had been blowing hot and cold on whether to use it or not in its big projects, one reason why they can’t make decisions sooner on MRT 3, LRT 1 and 2 extensions and even on what to do about a decent international airport gateway for Manila and the tourism hot spots in the provinces.

This inability to get projects going is serious enough to demand a direct intervention by P-Noy. As I recommended some columns ago, P-Noy must get an enforcer he trusts to light a fire under the asses of the DOTC bureaucracy. Otherwise, nothing will be delivered by way of major legacy projects before June 2016.

Oh yes… do not forget how DOTC’s failure is causing the hardworking tourism department to miss its targets. Flights at NAIA are restricted due to congestion. Yet, I saw Sec. Abaya telling a TV news interview that it will take at least two more years before he can order general aviation traffic out of NAIA. He smiled and said these are the big guys with private jets and I guess he is afraid to mess with them.

And Sec. Abaya shouldn’t even say the fast train from Clark is under study, as he did last Wednesday, as if that project has any hope of being resuscitated during P-Noy’s watch. The NorthRail Corp. doesn’t even have a functioning board of directors today.

One other reason why P-Noy must take a direct hand now is that our people have suffered long enough while waiting for things to happen in such a major infrastructure need as MRT 3. Here is one commuter’s account of how it is now to be a commuter on the MRT 3 which I lifted from my Facebook newsfeed:

“Rush hour, 5:30 p.m. Ayala MRT station, northbound. Queue 15 minutes to turnstiles. 10 minutes wait and then one train comes, too crowded, only five people in front of me get in.

“Next train after five minutes, but announcement is made: train is defective, no passengers can ride. Wait for next train. It comes after five minutes, and another eight people get in.

“Wait for next train. Comes after three minutes. Meanwhile the platform is bursting with people because trains come too few and far between.

“I finally get in. Ride to Cubao takes 12 minutes. MRT is in such a MESS! Fix those trains, add at least five more per hour between 5 and 7 p.m., both directions. Forget closing down and fixing EDSA or you will find commuters Doing Occupy DOTC and DPWH offices!”

Curiously, this year’s economic briefing held last Wednesday is running under the tagline: “Good Governance is Good Economics: Achieving Investment Grade.”

This administration has good copywriters. But they should tell DOTC to practice what their slogan preaches.

Politicians

Something to remember this May.

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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