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Opinion

Road blocks

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

When we hear the terms ECC and ROW, we know what they mean.

ECC stands for Environmental Compliance Certificate and it pertains to a document issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which allows a project to proceed to the next stage of development. ROW, meanwhile, stands for Right-of-Way, which is a legal right to pass through a specific route.

Or so we thought.

In reality, the two important project requirements have taken on different meanings. ECC in the construction industry parlance has sometimes been called “Early Campaign Contribution” while ROW is sometimes called “Rate-of-Windfall,” both capturing the reality that these requirements have been prone to corruption and used by unscrupulous individuals to make big money at the expense of critical infrastructure projects.

I learned these two terms from frustrated contractors who encounter severe delays in their projects because of corruption, red tape and other bureaucratic and administrative cobwebs.

While not every project delay is due to corruption, many are indeed due to corruption and it usually leads to additional costs.

Sometimes, government officials in charge of getting the ROWs are in cahoots with property owners so they raise the ROW cost and partake in the “windfall.” It’s also the same with ECCs. Sometimes authorities make it more difficult as a means to shake down the proponents.

Whatever the reason for the delay, our authorities must do what they can to speed up development projects because the public is unable to immediately enjoy the benefits from critical infrastructure projects.

What’s with the CALAX delay?

Recently, I read that the P35.7-bllion Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) has been snagged by Right-of-Way issues.

The project cost has swelled because of a five-year delay in acquiring the ROW, to the consternation of operator MPCALA Holdings Inc. (MHI).

Thus, the Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Group, MHI’s parent company, has to spend an additional P3 billion or 15 percent to build CALAX as a result of construction delay, from just P20 billion in the original plan.

MPTC chief finance officer Christopher Lizo attributed the hike in construction cost to the over two years of delay in target completion, worsened by spiking inflation worldwide.

Adding to the cost of delay are the lost business and livelihood opportunities in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon or in the communities surrounding the road, proponents said.

Botanical Garden of the Philippines

The municipality of Silang is also counting opportunity costs because of the delay.

In particular, every day of delay means lost tourism revenues for 300,000 residents.

With CALAX, more people could visit Silang but with the delay, Silang can’t lure in more visitors and investors to become the “Botanical Garden of the Philippines,” said Silang Mayor Kevin Anarna.

Unfortunately, a vital section of the CALAX, the Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange, has been caught in a ROW deadlock. Thus, the local government unit (LGU) can’t proceed to build inner roads.

According to data from the Metro Pacific Group, only 64 percent of the CALAX Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange subsection, the fifth of eight segments of the 45-kilometer expressway, has been finished.

The right-of-way on a relatively short but critical strip, or 450 meters of land, remains undelivered. The property is privately owned by a political family.

“We’re checking what legal remedies are available to us,” said Mayor Anarna.

He is hoping that a compromise can be reached between MHI and the private landowners before the end of the year.

The LGU of Silang clearly has a stake here. It is eyeing to achieve cityhood in 2025, aside from improving connectivity and economy in its area.

“Because that vital portion of the CALAX is unfinished due to ROW concerns, our tourist attractions are not being developed and visited well,” Mayor Anarna said.

Silang’s cityhood depends on the completion of the CALAX, the mayor added.

Motorists and visitors like us from Manila, for instance, also stand to benefit from CALAX once it is complete. There are 40,000 motorists per day who stand to benefit from the new expressway, according to estimates made by MHI.

Perhaps, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should step in to break the ROW deadlock holding up a critical section of the CALAX for half a decade now, Mayor Anarna said.

ROW problems

Contractors and infrastructure companies consider ROW issues as one of the major obstacles when they develop projects.

As some contractors told me, these ROW issues are usually the culprits in project delays. It also increases the cost for contractors.

As I mentioned, many contractors attest that these ROW issues are usually due to corruption or shakedown by private owners who want to get more money from the infrastructure project.

I am not saying these are the reasons for the delay in this particular project but whatever it is, it would really be good for all parties to work on a solution that would be for the greater good.

Because of the delays, MHI has moved the road’s opening date several times. The most recent target date is this month, although this is still uncertain.

MHI hopes to finally acquire the ROW by the end of this year so it can operate CALAX’s Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange by the first quarter of 2023.

Build Better More

The administration of President BBM is making a big push for infrastructure, even coining its own name, Build Better More – using the same BBM initials – for its public-private infrastructure program if only to drive a point that it wants to prioritize better and more vital infrastructure projects.

But if private sector proponents don’t get enough help from the government in obtaining ROWs, especially in crucial projects such as roads and expressways, it would really be difficult to “Build Better More.”

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

ECC

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