News Commentary

A premier gateway for Western Visayas

Rupert Paul Manhit - Philstar.com
This file photo shows the Manila International Container Terminal.

I had the privilege of writing in this space last week about the need to focus on investments in key areas such as infrastructure. These infrastructure projects form a central, crucial part of our economic agenda because of the multiplier effects they bring.

Next month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to present his third State of the Nation Address. Stressing the importance of infrastructure, and update the nation on the initiatives that have progressed or even realized success since last year’s speech will be among the anticipated themes.

Specifically, infrastructure investments under the Build Better More program will enhance efficiency by improving transportation and reducing costs and time for goods and services movement.

No less than the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 acknowledges that we need infrastructure investments. And, as always, the best way to go about this is for the public and private sectors to collaborate.

With the mandate to undertake projects for the good of the people, the government provides direction while the private sector provides the financial and technical muscle. Public private partnerships are a proven strategy to harness the private sector’s vast experience and impeccable track record in building and operating critical infrastructure projects.

One example that comes to mind is the Visayas Container Terminal (VCT) in Iloilo City, which is being undertaken under a 25-year concession agreement between the government and the International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI).

Who does not know ICTSI whose global financial and technical capability in port operations has been proven many times over? Now it is committing substantial capital to upgrade VCT into a state-of-the-art maritime gateway.

ICTSI's modernization efforts at VCT are aimed at reinforcing supply chain resilience in the region. By reducing trade costs and eliminating operational bottlenecks, the upgraded terminal will ensure a more reliable and efficient supply chain.

This enhanced logistics capability will foster the development of regional value chains and production networks, driving economic growth and strengthening intra-regional trade and cooperation across the Central Philippines. VCT is envisioned to be a pivotal hub in the area, linking maritime trade with land-based transportation networks.

ICTSI's development blueprint includes enhancing the port's connectivity with road and rail systems, thereby ensuring streamlined and efficient cargo movement.

This integration is crucial for positioning VCT as a logistics nexus, facilitating the seamless flow of goods across the Western Visayas region.

This includes significant investments in terminal infrastructure, deployment of cutting-edge cargo handling equipment, and the introduction of operational efficiencies that will elevate productivity and service quality to international standards.

Ensuring a secure and safe maritime environment is a top priority for ICTSI. The company will implement advanced safety and security protocols at VCT, encompassing state-of-the-art navigation systems, vessel traffic management technologies, and enhanced port security infrastructure. These measures are essential for safeguarding operations, protecting stakeholders, and facilitating smooth trade activities.

ICTSI plans to position VCT at the forefront of technological advancement. The terminal will incorporate automation, data analytics, and integrated logistics management systems. These technologies will significantly enhance operational efficiency, supply chain visibility, and customer experience, setting new benchmarks for port operations in the region.

By channeling substantial capital into upgrading terminal infrastructure and deploying cutting-edge cargo handling equipment, ICTSI aims to boost the port's capacity, efficiency, and service quality. These enhancements are not only vital for handling increased cargo volumes but also for setting new benchmarks in operational excellence.

Modernized port facilities will attract more shipping lines and logistics companies, creating a ripple effect that stimulates economic growth in the region.

The strategic integration of VCT with regional transportation networks is crucial for optimizing the movement of goods and ensuring supply chain resilience.

Improving connectivity between the port and road networks will facilitate seamless and efficient cargo transfers, reducing transit times and operational costs. This integrated approach is essential for creating a resilient logistics network capable of withstanding disruptions and maintaining the flow of goods.

Investment in advanced logistics technologies and infrastructure will enhance supply chain visibility and reliability, allowing for better coordination and responsiveness.

Strengthening these logistical foundations is imperative for supporting regional economic activities, boosting trade efficiency, and ensuring that the supply chain remains robust and adaptable in the face of global challenges.

But aside from being modern and efficient, VCT will be green and sustainable. ICTSI is always mindful of its environmental stewardship. Thus, its investment plan incorporates green technologies and sustainable practices, including the use of energy-efficient cargo handling equipment, comprehensive waste management systems, and robust measures to mitigate environmental impact.

The VCT concession highlights the strength of public-private collaboration in port development. By combining ICTSI's industry expertise and financial resources with the regulatory oversight and framework provided by the Philippine Ports Authority, a synergistic partnership is formed.

This collaboration is set to drive national economic growth, leveraging private sector investment to significantly enhance public infrastructure.

Then again, this is not the only example of effective public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects. Nor is it the only possibility. There are numerous potential private partners in numerous infrastructure areas and places in the Philippines that can be tapped to fill a huge gap.

We no longer need convincing about what must be done to take our economy to new heights. Investments play a significant role in this because they provide jobs, increase spending power, upgrade skills, and develop local communities.

It is the how that is tricky. What would be crucial to getting these investments is a perception that the Philippines is serious about cultivating a business and regulatory environment conducive to investors.

Genuine partnerships such as the VCT are founded on mutual interests and commitment. A good thing is happening in Iloilo, but those who will benefit from it are not confined to one geographical area. This is just one story, and the possibilities for other PPPs are many.


Rupert Paul Manhit is the COO and managing director of think tank Stratbase Group. He is the executive director of Philippine Trade Foundation (Phils Inc.)

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