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DOTC holds back the economy

Good as our GDP growth rate has been, it could have been a whole lot better. Holding us back is a largely inadequate transport infrastructure and the failure of DOTC to do much about it.

Last week, one A320 of Cebu Pacific and another of Air Asia were stuck at the Tacloban airport because of what looks like a usual case of incompetence on the part of DOTC or its affiliated agency, CAAP. They had to close the airport’s single runway because the surface peeled and cracked.

Six more flights were cancelled for the day affecting hundreds of commuters. Tacloban airport has 14 inbound and 14 outbound flights daily from and to Manila or Cebu. They claim the repair will take a day, but we don’t have to guess how good a rushed job would be.

The disgusting thing is they just fixed that same runway last May after closing the airport down for about a month. The excuse I heard is the asphalt melted because the sun’s heat was too intense. Can you believe that?

Those of us who were not born yesterday know something fishy probably happened. Most likely, the contractor was allowed to use substandard materials for the repair. Or maybe, the quality of the repair work is substandard. Most likely, it is both.

DOTC issued the standard press release about an investigation. But it will be as usual a case of DOTC investigating itself. The Ombudsman and COA should have their own technical experts so the public can get the real story.

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It happened also because DOTC has dilly dallied on a decision to rehabilitate the airport which was damaged by Yolanda. The airport was due for a major rehab even before Yolanda. But now, politics is apparently intruding. They want to move the airport away from its present location in Romualdez country.

There should be no problem moving the airport to Palo or elsewhere. It would cost P12 billion, reports indicate. It is a question of whether it is more cost efficient to rehabilitate the current airport complete with proper seawall to protect it from future typhoons, or just move it.

Apparently, while DOTC is making up its mind, and it usually takes an awful long time to do this, the repairs at Tacloban airport are not meant to last. In the meantime, the people suffer and the local economy curtailed.

In a way, this failure is like what happened in MRT 3. DOTC can’t seem to decide how to deal with the private owners so they can rehab the system properly. In the meantime, the stop gap measure of employing unqualified contractors for system maintenance is wrecking havoc on the riding public. I heard they are running MRT 3 cars without air conditioning lately.

The LRT1 extension project is delayed because they can’t decide on the common station. DOTC is insisting on two common stations, totally negating the meaning of common, which is one not two.

If a brochure says guests share a common bathroom in a hostel, it means one bathroom, not two. I hope they taught that basic math and vocabulary at Pisay and Annapolis.

Experts also say they should proceed with the common station as originally designed. Sec Jun Abaya is obviously going out of his way to accommodate a friendly conglomerate at the public’s expense. I can guess where DOTC officials, including Abaya, will work after their government stint.

All these avoidable delays in getting our transport systems functioning properly are serious constraints on the country’s economic growth. Put another way, we could be growing faster if we had better transport infrastructure.

The other day, I was talking to a friend who just got back from New York with the great news the BPO business has a lot more room to grow. He got more business prospects ready to relocate their backroom operations here, if only we had a more reliable transport system.

He explained that in his own case, he was forced to let some key officials of his operations here live in his house in Dasmariñas Village out of necessity. He had to make sure they would be able to get to the office on time, all the time.

He explained he cannot afford to have these key staff late for work because they are stuck in traffic or unable to get a ride at the MRT. The MRT situation had been a big constraint for his BPO business expansion because he is unable to assure potential clients his workers, who must commute daily can get to work on time.

In the case of the woeful Tacloban airport, neither DOTC nor CAAP will reimburse the real and opportunity cost of keeping two Airbus planes idle while they repair the runway. It only means the cost of doing business here is made unnecessarily higher because of government incompetence and/or corruption.

During the last five years, the domestic airline industry has been made to bear an unfair burden arising from DOTC’s inability to get its act together. The congestion in NAIA’s air traffic is the result of DOTC/CAAP inability to upgrade provincial airports so domestic carriers are forced to crowd their flights during the daylight hours. Worse, the simple quick exit taxiways at NAIA that Mar Roxas promised in 2012 are nowhere near seeing the light of day.

One expert showed me a Google map image of Gatwick airport in London that also has a single runway, but is doing a lot more landings and takeoffs than NAIA. Gatwick’s secret is something Mar Roxas promised in 2012 --- quick exit taxiways. 

Imagine the amount of expensive aviation fuel wasted while planes are circling NAIA waiting for clearance to land… or the annoyance of passengers made to wait longer than normal in planes lined up for takeoff. DOTC’s incompetence to get its mission done is wasting the time of business travelers that impacts on our national productivity.

The failure of DOTC to move quickly enough on modernizing our airports has also caused serious opportunity losses, for instance in the travel industry. I heard China mocked our bid to host the FIBA World Cup by saying we don’t even have proper airports. China won the bid.

That’s true. Ang lakas ng loob natin mag-bid. When my son arrived for a short visit last month, he said NAIA 2 doesn’t even have air conditioning. Horrible, isn’t it?

Max Edralin, an official at the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, told me we also recently lost our bid to be the regional headquarters of the Boy Scouts movement to Kuala Lumpur. Reason: not enough flights in and out of Manila and we all know that’s because of NAIA airport congestion. The other reason cited is iffy peace and order, but that’s another issue.

If the Boy Scouts nixed Manila because of lack of flights, we can imagine how many potential regional headquarters possibilities we have lost from private multinational companies. They would have the same concern.

Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez told me years ago he was confident he could meet his 10 million visitors target by the end of P-Noy’s term. They are nowhere near that number now.

But it is not Mon J’s fault. I remember he told me he was confident about that number based on the international feedback to the marketing campaign he launched. The problem is DOTC’s failure to deliver the airport infrastructure needed. But Mon J is too polite and too much of the party man to tell the public why he isn’t going to meet his target.

Mon J even tried to make a positive spin of the airport congestion at NAIA… it shows daw we are attracting more and more tourists and investors. But anyone who understands airport operations know NAIA is simply badly managed.

Frankly, that’s why I fear Mar Roxas becoming president. A Mar presidency may likely mean we will all be wandering aimlessly in the desert for six years waiting for him to make decisions. That fear is only exceeded by the fear of a Binay presidency deteriorating into one that is worse than the Marcos years. The devil and the deep blue sea, indeed!

The next president, even if it turns out to be Mar Roxas, must clean up DOTC and get internationally experienced transport experts, engineers and economists rather than lawyers to run it. 

The DOTC has turned out to be the most embarrassing failure of the Aquino watch. And we now know from our sad experience, the DOTC is vital to our country’s economic development. Without modern airports, seaports and mass public transport, pupulutin tayo sa kangkugan.

Earthquake drill

From the Professional Heckler.

The Senate and the House of Representatives also joined the drill. They were advised to Control Alt Delete themselves.

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

 

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