FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Hosting the APEC meeting in a crowded and disorganized metropolis like Manila is very likely a bad idea. The disruption will impose costs on everyone, costs far beyond the few billion pesos government is actually paying out for the event.

As that meeting nears, the scale of the disruption in an urban center that contributes over a third of total national production is becoming clearer. The dry run alone for the use of dedicated APEC lanes on Edsa held the other day must have doubled the P2.5 billion wasted due to traffic congestion in the metropolis.

The latest count says that 1,300 flights in and out of the Manila airport will be cancelled to clear the skies and the single runway we have here to make way for the APEC delegates. The staggering economic costs of doing that we can only imagine in rough terms.

No other APEC host country has ever imposed such costs on its citizens and sacrificed so much of its economic activity as we have.

The wholesale cancellation of commercial air traffic will cost us in terms of tourist arrivals, business opportunities and personal dislocation. That wholesale cancellation calls attention to the weakness of our infrastructure and the neglect of our premier airport.

In order to clear the roads of our world-class traffic jams, government declared the APEC meeting days a holiday. For workers who get paid by the day, that translates into lost income. For enterprises constrained to close down, that is loss of business. For truckers who cannot make trips for four days, that represents a lot of undelivered cargo that will likely bring us to another round of port congestion.

Classes have been ordered suspended. Add the lost learning hours to those already lost because this administration has multiplied the number of holidays where schools are closed down and those days when calamities forced suspensions. The lost learning opportunity should be quantifiable in some way.

Add to the costs the tens of thousands of security personnel pulled in from their duties elsewhere to attend to the needs of hosting this large international gathering. Last January, when the Pope came to visit, the cost of securing him was massive. Imagine the costs of securing 22 heads of state.

For all those costs, government has not built a single new piece of infrastructure. We have simply rehabilitated the old PICC.

The PICC, we will recall, was built in 1976, when the country hosted the international meeting of the IMF and the World Bank. At least that hosting produced a new facility that we have used many times over in the intervening years.


This is spilt milk, but important to think about as we prepare for all the disruptions that will strike our lives next week.

Three years ago, former president Fidel Ramos offered this government some unsolicited advice. He suggested we host the APEC meeting at the Clark facility.

Clark was an ideal place. It has two good runways. If the cost of hosting involved finally building a real airport terminal for Clark, all would have been worth the cost. The facility would have become a functioning international airport capable of taking in more air traffic.

Too, Clark was easier to secure than Metro Manila. We could have attracted tourist investments to build the other amenities needed to keep the visiting heads of state comfortable.

When we first hosted an APEC summit in 1996, on relatively short notice (since APEC summits was at that time a new thing), the Ramos government decided to hold the event at Subic. The cost of building the villas for the visiting heads of state was farmed out to private business in exchange for long-term leases.

Access roads to the summit venue were upgraded. After the event, the roads could be used for commercial purposes.

The existing runway at Subic came alive with preparations for the summit. After hosting that event, the airport became the hub for an international logistics company.

All in all, the costs we incurred for hosting this important summit produced new infra that remained usable for many years to come. It improved the economic viability of the abandoned former US Navy base. There were long-term benefits the country gained from this hosting.

This time, we had long notice of the APEC event. Hosting the annual summit is a chore rotated among the member economies. We could have planned for this hosting with an eye to rapidly building up an entirely new economic hub. Choosing Clark and building for it would have been a worthwhile investment.

Alas, this petty administration ignored the sage suggestion Ramos offered.

It could have been because the suggestion came from Ramos. President Noynoy Aquino has never welcomed anything FVR suggested, wise as the suggestion might be. For that matter, like his mother, Aquino seems allergic to unsolicited advice.

It could have been that building up the Clark facility was a key program of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Using the APEC hosting as an opportunity to build up the Clark facility would have yielded long-term economic gains --- although that would have brought to fruition Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s key program. It might be asking too much of the Aquino II administration to expect it to go through the hassle of building up Clark instead of just refurbishing the PICC. This, after all, has never been a infrastructure presidency. It has been consistently unable of thinking through long-term economic returns from necessary investments.

When we go through all the disruptions next week, bear in mind that all the trouble would have been avoided if the hosting were better considered.

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