There is hope

HIDDEN AGENDA - The Philippine Star

The monster traffic jams that Metro Manila residents are subjected to every single day result from our government’s failure to prioritize infrastructure investments.

And slowly, this traffic problem is scaring away foreign investors. After all, traffic means lower productivity, and which investor wants that?

With less than a year remaining for the Aquino administration, this government seems to have had a realization that if it wants to leave a legacy, it cannot be this.

And so for 2016, the budget department is asking 28 percent more for infrastructure spending. Meanwhile, the finance department is looking at tapping the domestic capital market to finance the various public-private partnership (PPP) projects, 10 of which have already been awarded since 2010 while 14 are up for bidding, of which 13 are expected to be awarded before June next year.

 With the huge backlog in the implementation of the PPP program, many seem to have given up on this supposed flagship program of the Aquino administration.

But as they say, better late than never.

Just recently, the last hurdle preventing the turnover of the operation and management of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway to the private sector has been overcome when the President finally signed last Oct. 16 the supplemental toll operations agreement for SCTEX.

According to reports, SCTEX has already been turned over by the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) to the Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC), which has been operating SCTEX for a number of years now, albeit on a temporary and short-term basis. But formal turnover will still be on Nov. 5.

The turnover came after MNTC was declared the winner of the price challenge conducted by government and following the company’s upfront cash payment of P3.5 billion.

Under the agreement, MNTC will operate and maintain SCTEX for 31 years up to 2046, while sharing on a 50-50 basis with government the gross revenues from toll fees.

Following the formal turnover, MNTC will take care of all the O&M expenses while BCDA will continue to shoulder the debt-servicing requirements of the JICA loan.

MNTC plans to spend P1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of SCTEX over the next three years, which is on top of the P700 million it will spend for integrating the tollroad with the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), which MNTC also operates.

It has been reported that MNTC has acquired new top-of-the-line equipment to make the toll road’s systems up-to-date. The company also plans to improve the traffic management system, to install CCTV cameras, to upgrade signages, and to put up a state-of-the-art traffic control center. 

All these have been affirmed by Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC) president Mon Fernandez, who said that the signing by the President of the STOA will enable MNTC to modernize SCTEX and integrate it with NLEX, to allow for “world-class seamless travel” for Luzon motorists and commuters, and will shore up Metro Pacific Investment Corp.’s leadership role in the domestic toll road industry. MPTC is a wholly owned subsidiary of MPIC while MNTC is owned by MPTC.

MNTC’s O&M contract for SCTEX was approved as far back as during the Arroyo administration, but was not implemented because the BCDA wanted a renegotiation. MNTC submitted a much improved offer in 2013 but it was only last February when government finally signed the contract to turn over the toll road to SCTEX.  But actual turnover was delayed because of the failure by President Aquino to immediately sign the STOA.

According to MNTC president Rodrigo Franco, SCTEX’s integration with NLEX is expected to be finished by March of next year. He explained that the P700-million integration project would simplify the two expressways’ toll collection system and reduce the number of toll collection plazas between them.

 Let us hope that the President’s act in finally signing the STOA for SCTEX will mean that other delayed projects will finally be implemented.

 MNTC’s much-awaited NLEX-SLEX Connector Road, which is expected to reduce travel time from NLEX to SLEX to just 15 minutes, is still awaiting a Swiss Challenge, which must first be approved by the NEDA ICC and the NEDA board. And then there is also this need to redesign the road’s alignment after it was found out that the North-South Railway Project which just got NEDA board approval will use the same PNR tracks.

 Why the ICC keeps shelving the matter of the Connector Road project’s Swiss Challenge is a big mystery.

 Imagine, all these trucks that use up all our roads to get from the South to the North disappearing because they have an alternative route. And of course, the resulting Manila port decongestion as other ports such as those in Batangas and Subic can be easily accessed.

That is how important this project is.

And of course, there are the other projects of the Metro Pacific group, which will also help ease traffic congestion such as the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) and

the NLEX C-5 Link Project or Segment 8.2 Road, a 7.85-kilometer road extension from Mindanao Avenue to Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, both of which are awaiting full delivery by government of the road right of way.

Separate wheat from the chaff

Just last week, we reported that former House Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella and his wife, Sangay Mayor Evelyn, have found themselves facing the same issues against them all over again after a certain organization has filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman for plunder in connection with alleged ill-gotten wealth.

But the issues raised in this new complaint are old. In fact, in 2004 and in 2012, the Tanodbayan and its successor the Ombudsman dismissed complaints filed against the Fuentebellas involving exactly the same issues.

Presentacion, Camarines Sur Mayor Jimmy Delena was quoted as saying that this new case is obviously politically motivated and aimed at destroying the reputation of the Fuentebellas.

With the elections just around the corner, expect cases upon cases being filed with the Office of the Ombudsman against public officials, many by their political opponents.

The Ombudsman, and of course, media should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

As I have said, while the Supreme Court has already ruled that double jeopardy does not apply where the Ombudsman dismissed a case during preliminary investigation against respondent public officer, preliminary investigation not being part of trial, rehashed complaints should be treated like garbage and thrown into the dustbin.

Not all complaints/complainants are the same. The Office of the Ombudsman should not allow itself to be used as an instrument for witch-hunting as well as for harassment because it would be a waste of time and resources.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]


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