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Honor government deals

HIDDEN AGENDA (The Philippine Star) - April 26, 2017 - 12:00am

The President’s inclusive growth and development stragey called “DuterteNomics”which is anchored on an ambitious infrastructure buildup becomes a lot easier with the help of private businesses which put in billions of pesos in new infrastructure projects despite problems caused by some government agencies which do not seem to sing the same tune as the President. 

Take the case of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) which continues to pour in huge amounts of money into high-impact projects, although some of its undertakings are not getting the same support from government.

Just recently, MPIC executives and government officials inspected the soon-to-be-finished segment 10 of the company’s North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) Harbor Link Project on the same day that government launched its series of “DuterteNomics” forums.

Joining MPIC chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan and other executives at the inspection were Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, National Economic and Development Authoritydirector general Ernesto Pernia, and Bases Conversion and Development Authority president Vivencio Dizon.

The DuterteNomics forum presented to the public the government’s big-ticket infrastructure projects worth over P8 trillion that will be implemented over the next five years.

The 5.7-kilometer segment 10 is the second and last portion of the NLEX Harbor Link and forms part of the government’s “Build, build, build” agenda.

No less than Villar acknowledged the fact that the MPIC project is the opening salvo of this year’s infra buildup.

The project addresses the worsening traffic crisis along EDSA and C-5, and is expected to drive trade and commerce between the Manila harbor area and Central and North Luzon, creating new jobs and business opportunities in the process, while finally solving the congestion problem of Manila ports.

According to its builders, it is as an engineering marvel, given the construction innovations used to speed up the completion of this all-elevated expressway, such as the use of gantry cranes to transport pre-cast girders and precision equipment to safely install structures, fabrication of girders in a nearby casting yard, among others.

The Harbor Link project is integral to what Villar calls the North Luzon spine network which aims to decongest Metro Manila, particularly EDSA and C-5 and Metro Manila’s nearby provinces.

Segment 10, which completes the NLEX Harbor Link, is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. According to Villar, the project is expected to decongest 30 percent of the traffic on EDSA and C-5.

The expressway uses the alignment of the Philippine National Railways to traverse Karuhatan in Valenzuela City, Pascual Avenue in Malabon City and C-3 in Caloocan.

Travel time from the Manila Port Area heading to the NLEX will only be about 10 minutes, according to Villar, and no truck ban will be imposed on the expressway.

The P10.5-billion Harbor Link project also includes segment 9, which was completed last year and became operational in March 2015; and segment 8.2, a 7.5-km, four-lane expressway that will run from Mindanao Avenue to Republic Avenue.

MPIC chair Pangilinan said Harbor Link would be a great boost to the country’s cargo-transport industry as cargo trucks would have 24/7 access from the port area to the northeast provinces of Luzon and vice versa.

For his part, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC) president Rodrigo Franco pointed out that motorists who would use segment 10 would enjoy the same seamless, safe and speedy travel that would be experienced by those plying NLEX. About 8,000 to 12,000 trucks pass through NLEX daily.

Last year, around 78 million metric tons of cargo were delivered from the Manila North Harbor to other parts of North and Central Luzon. This figure is expected to increase dramatically once segment 10 is operational.

MPIC has P153 billion worth of toll road projects in the pipeline, including the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (Calax), the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road, expansion of NLEX and Cavite Expressway (Cavitex), and the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX).

It has also submitted an unsolicited proposal for the modernization of the Clark Airport and is spending P2 billion to upgrade the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).

MPIC also began constructing last March segments 2 and 3 of the P2.6-billion NLEX Road Widening Project, and has invested P287 million for the construction of eight new toll lanes at NLEX.

Meanwhile, unit Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC) has secured a conditional notice to proceed with the construction of the C5 Link Expressway, which forms parts of the existing Cavitex. This is a P10-billion project spanning 7.6 kilometers to link C-5 Road in Taguig City to the R-1 Expressway (Coastal Road).

The construction of the P34.5-billion Calax is expected to begin this year once the Department of Public Works and Highways obtains the right-of-way for the project.

But in order for the projects to help the Duterte’s administration’s goals, government has to resolve the long-pending arbitration cases that MNTC and the Cavitex Infrastructure Corp. had separately filed before the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in Geneva, Switzerland and in New York in a bid to compel the government to compensate it for roughly P5 billion in foregone revenues.

It will be recalled that the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), under the Aquino government, failed to act on its petitions for toll increases for NLEX and Cavitex, even if the respective concession agreements with government provided for period rate adjustments to help the company recover its investments for the road projects.

Meanwhile, the DPWH should deliver its commitments to make certain right-of-way acquisitions soon so the Harbor Link project could be finished as scheduled.

The delay in the resolution of the toll fee adjustment petitions is putting at risk the viability and sustainability of MPIC’s ongoing projects.

Even the Supreme Court has already ruled that private operators of government projects have the right to be accorded a reasonable rate of return on their investments.

President Duterte had earlier assured businessmen that he would honor all existing government contracts, even as he emphasized that the sanctity of contracts must be respected. He has ordered all department secretaries and heads of agencies to refrain from changing and bending the rules on government contracts, transactions and projects already approved and awaiting implementation.

He also said that changing the rules when the game is ongoing is wrong.

All that the TRB needs to do is to honor government’s contract covering NLEX and Cavitex. The same is true for the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System which should honor its contract with the water concessionaires on periodic rate adjustments.

For comments, e-mail at philstarhiddenagenda@yahoo.com.

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