Estrada blinks; traders hail Manila truck ban lifting
Joseph Estrada blinked.
Now cargo trucks—those behemoths of the local freight industry—are lording it over Manila’s roads again.
Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada said on Saturday that he stood down to avert a clash between Manila and the national government.
So in front of reporters at Diamond Hotel in Manila, Estrada signed his Executive Order No. 67 lifting a seven-month-old ban on cargo trucks that had been blamed for congestion at the Port of Manila, double-digit losses for importers and exporters, food shortages, rising prices of basic goods, horrendous traffic in the metropolis and the threat, at one time, of a P320-billion loss for the Philippine economy, closures and job losses at special economic zones.
Estrada’s order took effect at noon on Saturday, handing victory to the truckers who had fought the ban but lost as the mayor, a former President of the Philippines, stood his ground, insisting on order and discipline on the roads of Manila.
But after a metro-wide gridlock and a 9-kilometer traffic tailback on the North Luzon Expressway on Sept. 5, Malacañang intervened, ordering the formation of Task Force Pantalan to oversee traffic management from the metropolitan gate to the expressway to Route 10-Del Pan at the Port of Manila.
The task force was composed of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) and local governments in the metropolis. It was headed by Chief Supt. Allen Bantolo, deputy director for operations of the NCRPO.
It was the operation of the task force that broke Estrada’s resolve.
At the news conference, the mayor said there was no pressure from Malacañang and that his decision was voluntary.
But later, he and Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso admitted that they felt bad about the national government’s response to the truck ban.
“You can’t deny us the right to feel bad. We are just doing our job and that is to solve our city’s traffic problems,” Domagoso said.
“We are trying to avoid conflict,” Estrada said. “There might be a shootout if we don’t lift the ban.”
Domagoso explained: “We were intimidated. Imagine bringing in the Army—soldiers in uniform and carrying M16s.”
Estrada said the city government and the residents of Manila decided to sacrifice their interests and let the national government have its way.
“I’m giving way to the national government under the Office of the President,” he said.
Estrada and Domagoso hinted that they were passing the responsibility for managing traffic in Manila to Malacañang.
“We have reached purgatory [with] the truck ban. Now, we [are going] back [to] the gates of hell,” Domagoso said.
There was no reaction from Malacañang yesterday as all Palace officials were preoccupied with President Aquino’s departure for Europe last night.
But Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma issued a brief statement, saying the lifting of the truck ban would facilitate cargo movement to and from the Port of Manila, and contribute significantly to the eventual decongestion of the port.
“Mayor Estrada’s statesmanlike gesture is commendable,” Coloma said.
The truck ban prohibited eight-wheelers and cargo vehicles heavier than 4,500 kilos from entering the city between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.
It eased traffic in the city but because of the limited trucking hours, cargo piled up at the Port of Manila.
When the truckers and shippers complained, the MMDA introduced a one-lane policy on C5 and Quirino Avenue, and Manila opened an “express trade lane” on Roxas Boulevard to allow trucks to move across the city outside the ban hours, hasten the removal of freight containers from the port and allow the unloading of fresh cargo coming in from foreign ports.
Later, the MMDA also introduced a “last mile” policy, exempting truckers doing business with the Port of Manila from local truck bans in the metropolis.
But those measures and overtime work at the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) allowed by the Bureau of Customs did little to ease the congestion at the port, which is expected to worsen in the coming weeks with the arrival of shipments for the holiday season.
Businesses groaned and Sen. Francis Escudero called on President Aquino on Monday to take a direct hand in solving the port congestion.
What the President did, Malacañang has not announced. But Estrada called a news conference yesterday and announced his capitulation.
Thank you, Erap
MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino thanked Estrada for “trying to find solutions to decongest the Port of Manila.”
Tolentino said he was confident that with the cooperation of all concerned, a return to the conditions before the truck ban could be enforced.
He said he would convene the Metro Manila Mayors Special Traffic Committee tomorrow to draw up a traffic plan that would incorporate Manila’s efforts at traffic decongestion and the national government’s objective of solving the port congestion.
The Department of Transportation and Communications welcomed Estrada’s decision, which it called timely as the Christmas season was drawing nearer.
“It is very much welcome and we sincerely appreciate Mayor Estrada’s decision to come on board,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said.
Hooray from business
The local and foreign business communities hailed Estrada’s decision, which they said would be crucial to decongesting the Port of Manila.
Business groups, however, want similar decisions from government agencies, which have imposed restrictions that hamper the stabilization of operations at the port.
“That’s a very important decision,” Henry J. Schumacher, vice president for external affairs of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said, referring to Estrada’s order lifting the truck ban. “What is needed for addressing the port congestion [and improving] accessibility of the ports is a ‘ban of all bans.’ But we need a lifting of the franchising of trucks for hire by agencies [under the] Department of Transportation and Communications. All trucks are needed to get full and empty containers out of the ports.”
Edgardo G. Lacson, president of Employers Confederation of the Philippines, described Estrada’s decision as a “reasonable response” to the port congestion, which he said had “morphed from a local traffic problem to a national crisis.”
“[We hope that] his gesture can influence other government agencies to start the process of a total and coordinated approach to solve the twin problems of port congestion and traffic mess,” Lacson said.
“The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s anticolorum rule, the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s certification requirement for brokers and importers, and the simultaneous Department of Public Works and Highways roadworks need to be harmonized with the schedule of port clearance,” he added.
Alfredo M. Yao, president of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a text message that Estrada’s decision would be a “big help.”
“But looking forward, the port problem should have a final solution, which is to expand the Subic and Batangas ports so that companies would not need to rely only on the limited capacity of the Manila port. And, of course, our infrastructure projects should be fast-tracked and backed with political will,” Yao said.
Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc., said he believed that Estrada just decided to cooperate with the national government.
“I don’t think he is doing this because he thinks the truck ban is a problem. He is just cooperating so that everybody will move,” Ortiz-Luis said in a telephone interview.
“This is a good move and at least now, there are no reasons [why] this issue cannot be done or resolved. Let’s see now how fast the government can do this,” he said.
More to be done
International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), which operates the MICT, also welcomed Estrada’s decision but said more needed to be done.
“This ban lifting is a major step but only the first of many. What we need to do now is shorten the time it takes to totally solve the issue by ensuring everyone is working for the same thing. We need to set aside individual interests and focus on joint solutions,” Christian Gonzales, ICTSI vice president and Asia Region head, said in a text message.
Gonzales said he had called port users to a meeting tomorrow “to put together a decongestion plan under the new conditions set by this truck ban lifting.” With reports from Kristine Felisse Mangunay, Amy R. Remo and Miguel R. Camus
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