Manila port congestion? Move to Subic, Batangas

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2014 - 12:00am

Behind every crisis is opportunity. The economic drop that Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada caused by his citywide daytime truck ban in time could perk up the entire Mega Manila. That is, if national officials get their act together.

The truck ban was long due. For decades, dump and cargo trucks and container trailers have been wrecking city streets, clogging traffic, and dirtying the air. City hall derived no income from the haulers, while its road repair, traffic control, and public health bills mounted. Last Feb. Estrada forbade big vehicles from using his streets from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The effect was immediate. Manilans enjoyed traffic-free commuting. Road erosion, traffic, and air pollution shifted to adjacent cities’ boundaries, where truckers awaited nightly entry to Manila. And hundreds of thousand shipping containers piled up inside the seaport, since truck rollouts had been reduced to a third.

The port congestion triggered economic crisis. Perishable goods spoiled, and factories north and south of the capital idled from lack of raw materials. For, the usual two- to three-day haul-out of containers had lengthened to weeks. Food prices surged, and trade sagged. Slapped with higher demurrage fees and fines, importers and exporters began cursing Estrada. What right does the matinee idol-turned politician, President-then-plunder convict have to hold the national economy hostage, they shrieked?

National authorities saw it as a local issue. They convinced Estrada to relax his truck ban, and allow a daytime truck express lane on selected avenues. The palliative eased the port congestion only a bit. Panic struck as major international shipping lines began to boycott Manila. Maersk, NYK, and Evergreen stopped berthing on July 1st; OOCL has served notice to follow suit on Aug. 1st.

If the brass look beyond their noses, they will find answers a short distance from the capital. In Subic Bay, 138 km north by smooth tollway lies a modern port capable of handling 600,000 containers a year. In Batangas City, 106 km south by similar good road is another that can take in 300,000 containers. Most of the goods that land in or sail out of Manila go to or come from factories and shops around Subic and Batangas. Subic is itself an economic processing zone where factories enjoy tax breaks. A few towns away are similar zones in Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Tarlac provinces. Not far away are more eco-zones in Pangasinan and La Union provinces, and Baguio City. For its part, Batangas City ideally is within an hour’s drive to more such zones in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna provinces.

Diverting the Manila port traffic to Subic and Batangas obviously is the long-term solution. There is no congestion there, says economist Dr. Enrico L. Basilio. In fact, Subic and Batangas are only six- and three- percent utilized, respectively, he points out in a policy paper (see http://www.philippinechamber.com/index.php/press-release/847-policy-paper-on-port). Leaving the two largely underused would be wasting P17.5 billion that government spent on port development. Not to forget, P111 billion more to rehabilitate and widen the North and South Luzon Expressways, and pave connecting expressways.

The private sector has lobbied with certain government agencies to make Subic and Batangas attractive to shippers. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry got the Philippine Ports Authority to halve the demurrage and other port fees. The Supply Chain Management Association of the Philippines and PhilExport are working out ways to bring down cargo handling costs. They await efforts by the Dept. of Trade and Industry to convince shipping companies to return to the Philippines via the two ports.

Relocating container operations north and south of Manila would require relocation as well of warehouses and head offices. This would further spur the use of the expressways, and fully decongest the metropolis. New epicenters of trade and development would emerge.

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A cold-blood murder of four gold panners in Camarines Sur last Mar. has acquired partisan political color. At newsbreak the massacre was blamed on the Fuentebellas because seven of the eight identified gunmen hail from one of the clan’s bailiwick towns. Things reversed when the National Police Commission removed from Gov. Miguel Luis Villafuerte, of the Fuentebellas’ dynastic archrivals, control of the provincial police. Reason for this was that the killers actually belong to the provincial capitol’s Sagip Kalikasan anti-logging task force, formed by the governor’s predecessor-father Luis Raymund Villafuerte. Allegedly the Villafuertes were interfering in the investigation. Four months since the multiple murders only two of the eight suspects have been arrested; more than a dozen remain as John Does.

The incident remains a heinous crime, however. From the NBI report, the four fatalities were unarmed, and had no way to fight back the gunmen. It happened with stealth at night, in remote Barangay Gata. Employing superior force, around 20 attackers with rifles barged into the mining barracks where six civilians were resting. They fired at will, close range, hitting two in the back and two in the chest and face. One managed to hide behind a wall; another ran for his life.

The barangay chief, a feisty female, alleges pre-meditation. The Sagip Kalikasan was tasked only to interdict hot logs at checkpoints. But the persons they killed are known to be long-time gold panners. Three months prior, the same gunmen had abducted and detained several village folk for illegal panning. On the morning before the murders, their chief had wangled from the Provincial Mining Board a declaration of the locale as a People’s Mining Zone and a permit for small-scale mining.

The two survivors of the shooting corroborate her. Other witnesses say the armed men, in behalf of higher-ups, want to muzzle into the gold panning. Allegedly in return for their release last Dec., they were forced to sell their gold bits for P900 a gram, three-fourths the normal price, to a preferred trader of the gunmen.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com


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