The national nautical highway and other topics of regional development


My column of Jan. 18 which dealt with regional development was directly stimulated by reading a news item about the expansion of the Port of Calapan, in Mindoro.

I was happy to read about the promise of better days for that port. One decade ago, I remember how I experienced an unforgettable inconvenience in Calapan port.

Regional travel by road and ports. I was traveling homeward, nearly about to complete one of those memorable road trips that I took every half-year by car on the country’s roads but across our rural places.

In these journeys, I was always accompanied by a good personal driver on the wheel. That was the sensible way for personal safety for such long road travels.

More over in that way, I could focus on observation and thought. The long drives were meaningful for my personal purposes. It was “development” research, reconnection to country after a life of economic work, and certainly not what we call tourism, for I was always armed with pen and notebook aside from reading matter.

On that occasion, the route I had traversed took me from the islands of Luzon to Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros and Panay. We arrived in Mindoro in the southern tip of the island in Roxas from the port of Caticlan in Panay. We drove the rest of the early afternoon from Roxas to Calapan. After two weeks on the last leg of a long road trip, we were in Mindoro island, to ride a Ro-Ro to take us to Batangas port, and back to Luzon. After one day of rest, we would cross to Batangas.

Crowded port terminal. The Calapan port was very small in relation to the existing demand for it. The small port area was still closed to the line of vehicles waiting to ride the Ro-Ro vessels. For almost the entire night, we were required to park the car outside the port in a most inconvenient way. The number of vehicles were not many but there was congestion nonetheless because of the limited space available on the roadside. There was little organization in the port area so that it was difficult to seek information on which ships were available for possible loading. Although Calapan itself was a sparsely populated place, the roadway next to the port was cramped because it was narrow and short and many private structures cramped up the space. There was lack of order in preparing the public areas that serve the port because not enough supporting investments were undertaken to improve the port.

Calapan port is not unique in this regard. Conditions of crowding and disarray of terminal loading facilities are bound to happen whenever the port is kept small in relation to large demand for its services. All ports experience crowding and mayhem whenever port facilities fail to keep up with demand. But oftentimes, poor management of the facilities aggravate the inconvenience.

Based on experience from my road travels, there is great underinvestment in Philippine Ro-Ro ports. If suffering Manila’s traffic on its main highways is calvary enough, the experience in seaports when extremes of overload occur is worse.

The port of Matnog, in Sorsogon, is probably the most traveled among the country’s interisland Ro-Ro ports. It is the land gateway from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao via Samar. The passenger terminal for passengers is so limited, and the place is crowded even more by the presence of private stalls that sell merchandise and food to terminal users. Because waiting in such ports is by the hours and loading by vessels is slow and only intermittent, the buildup of passengers waiting in the terminal could become massive. Human body functions being what it is, the availability of toilets in good order and proper maintenance should be of high priority. There has never been a time when I felt comfortable enough to enjoy the long wait in Matnog for the ferry to arrive and to load my car.

Other subjects about regional development. Such observations however are only a few of many diverse experiences.

Some observations and thoughts are informative and others inspiring, some are memorably good experiences, and some frankly critical. I have accumulated many observations about national traits and culture. Still are concerned with the need to improve economic policies if we are to succeed in economic development the way we hope to grow as a country.

Let me just cite a few topics that come to mind.

The country is truly beautiful and scenic.

Wherever we go in the country, whether the place is rich or poor, there are many children. That says a lot about our opportunities as well as challenges.

The country’s regions outside of Metro Manila are growing but some are lagging far behind those that lead.

Across the years, Jollibee has mapped the land with its chickenjoy and burgers. McDonalds, the original pioneer that started it all in the country, is a far, far second.

SM malls are all around the country, dominating the mall landscape.

The national highway road system is highly passable throughout the country. It is well-paved and for the most part lined. It is marked by kilometer distance that are measured from Manila.

The condition of roads within the national highway system is mainly due to the efficiency and management by the public works district engineering office.

We can travel around the country by road and find sufficiently adequate country inns and hotels to make the travel pleasant.

Can we judge the future of church-going in the country by observing the churches we see on the roads? The Iglesia ni Kristo dominates the architecture of modern churches on the roadside.

During the harvest period around the country, the roadsides and sometimes half the road are used to dry the harvested palay grain. Does that tell about underinvestment in facilities or the backwardness of the grain farming sector?

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For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/



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