15 June 2015

House think tank outlines ways to end port logjam

TO address the problem of port congestion in Metro Manila, the House of Representatives’ Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) has urged the government to consider Batangas and Subic ports as alternative main sea gateways and upgrade the country’s infrastructure.

CPBRD, the research body of the lower chamber, said in a discussion paper that it is imperative that the government seriously consider gradually shifting international container traffic to Batangas and Subic ports to solve the growing congestion problem in Metro Manila and to catalyze growth in adjacent regions.

It also encouraged the government to study carefully the proposal to cap volume in the Port of Manila (POM), and consider the impact of this policy in terms of the potential additional cost to shippers.

The CPBRD, citing a study by supply-chain stakeholders, said around 70 percent of the imported raw materials, equipment, supplies and consumer goods go to Metro Manila and Northern Cavite. About 18 percent go to Laguna, 6 percent to Batangas and Quezon; and 6 percent to Pampanga and other areas north of Metro Manila.

A big part of the exports come from Metro Manila and Northern Cavite, at 73 percent.

“The Joint Foreign Chambers [JFC] of the Philippines has suggested that the local government units of Metro Manila impose higher taxes on factories and warehouses as incentives to move to hubs like Batangas and Subic,” the research body said.

It added that “various groups have [also] advocated for the Batangas and Subic ports as alternatives of the POM to deliberately address the issue concerning the underutilization of these ports, albeit, improving in recent years.”

According to the CPBRD, around P17.5 billion was borrowed during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration to finance the development of Batangas and Subic ports, excluding the additional investments of around P111.1 billion that funded the expressways leading to these ports.

The CPBRD also proposed separating the regulatory and operational functions of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

“While the Batangas Port is under the PPA, the Subic Port is owned by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority [SBMA]. Thus, it may seem challenging for the PPA to strongly promote the Subic Port as a competitor to the PPA-owned ports, including the POM, because of its potential to erode the PPA’s revenues substantially,” the paper said.

According to the CPBRD, the port-congestion problem in 2014 was unprecedented.

“The PPA had dealt with port-congestion problems in the past but only during Christmas season, when there is substantial increase in import volume. But the port congestion last year was far more complex and urgent, triggered by the Manila truck-ban ordinance,” it said.

The port-congestion problem last year has prompted the government to establish a Cabinet cluster, whose task was solely to address the port logjam, a result of the Manila truck ban, limited road capacity in Metro Manila and the growing trade volume.

Infrastructure projects

The research body also backed the proposals to construct a “mega port” within or outside Manila to support a growing trade volume in the next five to six years.

“Undoubtedly, the root of the congestion problem in the country is the lack of well-planned and efficient infrastructure,” it said.

The CPBRD added that the country’s infrastructure is among those identified by multilateral companies as one of the major weaknesses in its growing economy.

“Indeed, solving the country’s congestion problem requires more investment in infrastructure development,” the body said.

Also, it added that port stakeholders have suggested the need to build a dedicated elevated expressway connecting the POM directly to the North and South Luzon expressways.

“Some have even proposed to revive the railways from POM to Divisoria and Tutuban to Caloocan, and connecting them with North and South Luzon. The fast and cost-effective service by rail transport makes it a preferred mode of transporting passengers and cargoes,” the CPBRD said.

It said the country’s remarkable economic growth in recent years, as well as the expected gains from the upcoming Asean Economic Integration, is seen to facilitate robust international trade to support a consumption-driven economy and a booming manufacturing industry, adding: “The increasing capacity of ships calling at world ports requires port infrastructure that could accommodate post-Panamax vessels containing more than 14,000 to 18,000 20-foot equivalent units [TEUs], from the current 8,000 to 10,000 TEUs.”

National transport policy

One of the major shortcomings of the country’s infrastructure sector is the lack of an integrated national transport plan, the CPBRD said.

“The port-congestion problem would have been prevented had there been a national transport policy in place that guides and harmonize the development goals of the national and local governments. It is, therefore, imperative to put in place a comprehensive long-term National Transport Policy toward achieving a well-coordinated and integrated multimodal transport system in the country,” the research body added.

A national transport policy will also institutionalize and insulate the country’s national transport- development plan from political interventions as the case of the Manila truck ban, it said.

“[Also] it is vital for the transport-infrastructure network, such as port, airport, roads, rail transport, to be planned as a system to ensure the stability and sustainability of the key industries’ supply chain,” it said.

The CPBRD also adopted the proposal of the JFC for the formulation of a “master plan,” which should aim, for instance, to transform Manila into a financial and service center—tourism, finance, education, medical and business-process outsourcing.

“This would require moving factories and manufacturing activities to the outskirts of Metro Manila, particularly Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga, Batangas and Subic. Moreover, it is important to equip Batangas and Subic ports with world-class logistics facilities, including warehouses and distribution centers,” the lower chamber’s research body said. (Jovee Marie de la Cruz, BusinessMirror)

The New Container Terminal 1 (NCT1) at the Subic Bay Freeport, recently declared as berth no. 8 of the Port of Manila.