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DOTC: A shameful failure

“These days, thousands of MRT passengers have to wait longer in kilometric lines before they could get inside the train since only seven MRT trains are operational. Originally, there were 60 trains. Last year, the number dropped to 20, then 14, and nine, and now, seven. Apparently, the target was to have zero operational trains. The government is on the right track. Congratulations!”

The Professional Heckler is right. It was silly of us to expect an Annapolis graduate, with an engineering degree from an American Ivy League school, to deliver on his mandate. It was the same expectation we had of his predecessor who had a Wharton business degree and worked in Wall Street.

The blame for the utter shameful failure of DOTC can be pinned on P-Noy simply because he allowed first, Mar Roxas and then Jun Abaya, to do nothing. Commuters now rightfully call the MRT – Mar Roxas Trains because the problems bloomed during his watch.

The problems at the MRT show a callousness of this government that is unimaginable. It is the same callousness we see at NAIA where either NAIA or CAAP is guilty of doing nothing to relieve airport congestion. The simple solution of constructing the rapid exit taxiways Mar Roxas promised in 2012 remains undone.

The good news is DOTC is finally breaking ground on a four kilometer extension of the LRT 2 to Masinag in Antipolo. P-Noy and Mar were reluctant to even carry out the extension which was long overdue because they wondered if there would be enough users.

That was a rather stupid worry to publicly express. Anyone who has been to the corner of Marcos and Sumulong highways called Masinag knows the volume of people there. When Mar told media they would do a market study, I wrote on this column Henry Sy built a mall there and that’s the only market study they need.

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So they say the extension will be completed towards the end of 2017. It could have been completed before P-Noy bows out of office. But DOTC took time figuring out how to approach it. Here is the inside story from one of my expert sources why it was uselessly delayed.

“The ‘bright’ boys of Roxas at DOTC have really injured the country – on this project and many others. The LRT-2 extension was one of the low-hanging fruits mentioned by the Philippine Constructors Association in Q3 of 2010.

“Last December 2014, Timmy Limcaoco was still holding on to the fantasy that the detailed engineering works for which they awarded to the Korean-led consortium can be completed in three months! By the way, to my recollection they disqualified everybody except this favored party.

“Only DCCD Engineering had the track record, as they were the local partners of Katahira on the original LRT-2 design. The bidding process for this took longer than usual – announced as far back as Dec 2012. More than a year for what usually takes three-six months.

“If the Roxas boys were stupid or incompetent, this length of time can be forgiven. However, I believe they are not stupid. So, the delay must be intentional - or perhaps, they have to clear all decisions first from the ‘real’ Secretary of DOTC - which is Mar Roxas (not Abaya).

“If intentional, for what purpose? To sabotage P-Noy’s program? Or to time the projects completion as close to the 2016 election as possible so Roxas could ride on the media mileage. If latter, their inexperience on infra is their undoing – 20 months to complete construction from Notice to Proceed, plus six months (do-able, if DPWH; impossible if DOTC) to bid, and six months for Engineering works of the Korean (allegedly). That adds up to 32 months from March 2014. 

“The extension of LRT1 done in the waning years of the Arroyo administration was design and build with just one contractor responsible. It was completed before former President Arroyo’s term expired.”

The other big failure of DOTC manifested in that paralyzing congestion at the Manila port which caused shortages and losses for exporters and importers alike. They like to blame Mayor Erap for it because of the city’s truck ban. But the problem was there all along and the truck ban just worsened it. That problem is DOTC’s.

A Cabinet committee has declared the port congestion problem over. Perhaps, Sec Rene Almendras who heads this committee should not rest until some long term measures are in place. This means, the Philippine Ports Authority, a DOTC agency, has a lot of proactive work to do. DOTC itself must coordinate with other agencies so the root causes of the problem are addressed.

Indeed, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department has produced a study which concluded the problem boils down to a “lack of an integrated national transport plan. This is compounded by the absence of a long-term policy framework to support a national transport plan.

The port congestion problem would have been prevented had there been a national transport policy in place that guides and harmonize the development goals of the national and local governments.”

That is also what a private port operator is saying. According to ICTSI officials, they can expand and expand their port facilities, but if no new roads are constructed going to the ports their investments will be useless. Further expansion at the port will certainly worsen traffic problems in the absence of better road access.

ICTSI vice president and head of Asia Pacific region Christian Gonzalez said the company is concerned about the state of infrastructure in the port of Manila and the lack of political will to address major risks. For example, he cited the need for more political will to deal with informal settlers who continue to make it difficult for trucks to move in and out of the ports particularly the MICT.

The port congestion study of the Congressional Policy and Research Department written by Ricardo P. Mira called for a comprehensive long-term National Transport Policy. This is something we would expect the folks in DOTC should have been working on.

Mira says “it is vital for the transport infrastructure network—i.e. port, airport, roads, rail transport—to be planned as a system to ensure the stability and sustainability of the key industries’ supply chain. In other words, it should be supportive of trade and commerce and of the country’s overall competitiveness.”

The Mira study pointed out efficient movement of freight is essential in ensuring the sustainability of the supply chain of many industries necessary for economic growth. The study also pointed out based on a survey by the Export Development Council (EDC) on the impact of port congestion to export industries, Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport) disclosed food and garment shippers suffered losses of as much as $450,000 in terms of cancelled orders and lost opportunities since the port congestion started.

“Revenue losses from exports of electronics were pegged at about $1,000 per metric ton. In order to survive in their business, shippers were forced to send their cargoes via the more expensive air shipment, as well as continued to implement downsizing, rotation or work stoppage due to delays in the arrival of raw materials…

“According to the Citigroup Philippines (2014), the truck ban and the ensuing transport bottleneck could cost the country up to P320 billion in losses from disrupted trade, job losses, among others, which could cut the country’s GDP growth by as much as five-percentage points. This could dwarf the losses attributed to the internal traffic jam in Manila of about P30 billion—partly the reason why the City Government of Manila issued the truck ban ordinance.”

Indeed, because of the port congestion problem, we can blame DOTC for causing serious dampeners to the economy. From the decline in GDP in the third quarter of 2014, to the increase in the prices of commodities and services, DOTC’s incompetence is costing the economy and most specially the consumers big money.

Any project DOTC undertakes requires decades instead of months to complete. The BRT proposal in Cebu took more time than necessary and yet after approval was announced, still months away from getting started on the ground.

The next Congress should consider scuttling DOTC and let local government units or the regional development councils handle their transport needs. It is too late in the day to do anything about that expensive, but useless department in the remaining months of this administration. 

With the creation of the Department of Information and Communication Technology, DOTC must drop the C in its name. If transport is all they are going to be responsible for, it would be better to let DPWH handle that function so coordination is within one government department.

My big wonder is how can Abaya seem to be so calm amidst the non performance he is responsible for? Shameless!

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

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