Take charge of traffic problem, Aquino urged
MANILA, Philippines–Take charge of decongesting the Port of Manila and easing the monstrous traffic gridlock in the metropolis if port, customs and transport officials could not resolve these matters soon, a political ally urged President Aquino on Sunday.
Sen. Francis Escudero said the Senate committee investigating the issue might just make the suggestion as he noted the worsening traffic problems in Metro Manila.
“It’s not that there are no other major problems that the President has to face. But this is a big problem and if his people are a failure, he has to take over because these people are just his alter ego,” Escudero said over radio station dzBB.
“It’s different if the President is giving the directions and reminders, compared to agencies that are on the same level and which sometimes resort to finger-pointing,” he added.
Escudero said statements from Palace spokespersons that something was being done were no longer enough because the traffic problem had been going on for so long.
He also said an apology would not help a motorist stuck for three hours on the road, or unable to see his family for five or six hours. “[W]hat people want is true and genuine service, and efficient service at that.”
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda apologized on Saturday for the monster gridlock on the southbound lane of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and on the roads leading to the Port of Manila on Friday.
No relief yet
Commuters may find no relief in the next two weeks.
Malacañang on Sunday appealed for “a little sacrifice” as the government begins moving Monday unclaimed freight containers out of the ports in Manila.
Cargoes, many of which have been sitting there for more than three months, will be transferred to the Subic port in Zambales province.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the movement of containers would have “spillover effects on the flow of traffic,” apparently similar to the horrendous congestion along NLEx’s southbound lane on Sept. 5.
Avoid truck routes
“We need to sacrifice a little, especially in the next two weeks,” Coloma said over Radyo ng Bayan. “We advise the people to avoid the truck routes and look for alternative routes so they won’t be caught in the gridlock.”
He said authorities were looking at “significant and drastic reduction” in the volume of containers occupying the Port of Manila.
Fines after deadline
Last week, a Cabinet cluster agreed to give cargo owners until Sept. 8 to move their shipments out of the Manila port. Those that would be left unclaimed would be moved to Subic.
By Oct. 1, cargo owners will be fined P5,000 for every day that their containers remained in the Manila port.
“We’re asking for the cooperation of our port users, industry players and the citizens,” Coloma said.
From Sept. 7 to 8, truckers moving cargoes out of the Manila port were given special tags allowing them to take “last mile” and 24-hour express lanes.
The same privilege will be in effect on Sept. 14 and 15 to help speed up the decongestion at the port.
Ports not warehouses
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras earlier reminded container owners that ports were not supposed to serve as their warehouses. He said many containers had been kept in the Manila port for 90 days.
Expecting more imports during the remainder of the year, the government decided to take “drastic steps” to decongest the port, Almendras said.
If container owners would cooperate, he said, the decongestion could be completed during the two-week period.
Escudero said people were waiting for solutions, answers and specific plans about the road gridlock with a specific timeframe.
“I think people deserve and demand efficient service given to them and delivered by government,” he said.
Confluence of factors
Escudero said the traffic problem relating to port congestion was due to a confluence of factors.
These include the Manila truck ban and the stricter rules of the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the latter requiring a National Bureau of Investigation clearance for importers.
There is also the lack of roads in and around the ports, and there is a need for a more efficient system of running the ports.
The Philippine Ports Authority, Bureau of Customs, port operators and the private sector must all sit down to iron out the kinks in the system.
“They must sit and talk among themselves because it is hard to make people follow orders,” Escudero said.
He also noted that the holidays are coming and importers are expected to bring in more goods, which will add to the port congestion.
The delays in delivery of goods could also jack up the inflation rate, he warned.
The problem doesn’t need a rocket scientist to solve, but an expert in time-and-motion study who would be able to determine the most efficient way of managing the movements in the ports, according to the senator.
He said he had asked port officials to submit such a study during the next hearing.
Sen. Ralph Recto said the country must work double time to resolve traffic and security problems and the state of the airport to ensure it would be prepared for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit next year, which would have the heads of 21 governments converging in Metro Manila.
“If Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will hug and pose for a selfie in November next year, will they be doing it in a metropolis that international reporters covering the Apec summit will hail as safe and clean?” Recto asked in a statement.
“Or will the traditional ‘class picture’ of Apec leaders have cargo trucks stuck in traffic as background?” he added.
Recto also suggested that Congress audit the Apec requirements during the national budget hearings.
The administration has sought a P4.6-billion budget for the International Commitments Funds, but Recto thinks this would just be for hosting requirements and excludes the outside-of-venue needs, such as improving airport facilities.
He said there were also allocations in the 2015 budget that point to a “crash Metro Manila makeover.”
“There is a P1.9-billion allocation for the rehabilitation of Edsa. There is another P1.9 billion to repair flyovers. There is P600 million for the repair of Naia (Ninoy Aquino International Airport). In the budget of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), there is at least P30 billion worth of projects, which will be implemented in (Metro Manila),” he said.
He also noted that the Manila International Airport Authority had an annual net income of P3 billion, a portion of which could be used to spruce up passenger-comfort facilities.
While not all projects may be attributable to the Apec summit, those scheduled to be finished before the international event must be completed by then, Recto said.
For those that will not, there must be a traffic management program so that gridlock would not mar the summit, he added.