Abject failure: The government’s record in the transport business

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

EVEN Roy Golez at his peak and just after Annapolis couldn’t run a shipping company that was created by the state in the 1970s to haul bulk cargo for the international routes. I cannot even remember the name of that state-run shipping firm which Mr. Golez ran under the Marina, or Maritime Industry Authority (Marina). Later, Mr. Golez would be named the “Miracle Worker” for introducing efficiency at the Post Office. But in running ships, he was a failure despite his Annapolis training.

Everything was supposed to be in Mr. Golez’s favor. He had the full support of Col. Tanseco, the Marina administrator. The state really needed to charter bulk carriers for its important imports. The rationale behind the creation of the state-run shipping company was probably this: If the farming cooperatives of Japan can own and run their own cargo ships (they still do and they now own jumbo cargo ships that carry anything from exported fruits to fertilizer ingredients), why not the Government of the Philippines ?

But therein lay the difference. The Japanese faming cooperatives had–and still have–all the incentives to succeed. They have to turn over profit year after year to keep the coops afloat and the members happy, if not prosperous. The Government of the Philippines went into the shipping business to ensure the regular comings and goings of important bulk cargoes, plus the contracting of competitive freight rates. But there was no incentive to perform beyond the ordinary. And one or two bungled freight contracts may be enough to end the idea of a state-run shipping firm.

That, precisely, was the fate of Roy Golez’s“ baby.” It was abandoned before it could go into the more calamitous decision of buying its own cargo ships.

Ok, let us now move on to rail transport.

Exhibit A is the Philippine National Railways, the PNR. Its start was impressive. It was the mainstay of the Manila-Bicol run. Remember the Bicol Express? It had a top speed better than the Amtrak. A few years back, I took the Amtrak from one of the Silicon Valley towns to Oxnard in the South just to relive my train riding days. It took me nine hours, or what felt like eternity. During its glory days, the PNR was better, except maybe for the history and geography lessons that one gets for taking the Amtrak. The PNR, too, lacked the restaurant with a view that is standard in long-distance routes of Amtrak.

Up north, it ran up to La Union, a real alternative to the bus service along MacArthur Highway. There were short-distance routes. In the late 1950s, my father and I moved santol and kaimito by carabao and cart from our home into the PNR terminal in our Lubao barrio. Before 4:00 a.m., the stuff would be in the fruit section of the Guagua public market, where my mother would transact–quickly and without much haggling–with bulk buyers for the Olongapo City market.

What is the public image of the PNR now? A shrunken Leviathan. A pile of rolling junk. A public transport disaster. Despite the good intentions of government, the idea of a PNR run by the government remains a doubtful, prone-to-bankruptcyproposition .

What about the elevated hellscape called the MRT 3?

The anchor of the urban rail network carries more than 500,000 passengers a day and the elevated tracks span the length of EDSA that is home to the most important economic centers of the country–from Quezon City to Pasay City. We can call the MRT 3-serviced area the highest revenue-generating part of the country.

The MRT 3 used to be an efficient rail system. The beginning of its collapse is easy to pinpoint: at the precise point the government opted to take over the MRT 3 and contracted a politically connected but incompetent consortium to handle the service and maintenance work. A newly registered company with small-time Pangasinan LP ward leaders as incorporators doomed the operations of the MRT 3. During the Aquino administration, it was also the Flagship of Corruption.

Ok, let us now move on to land transport.

Remember the ill-fated operations of the Metro Manila Transport Corp. (MMTC) that ran buses across Metro Manila? Remember the operations of the sequestered Pantranco?

After the two had ended their run, we had two results. Piles of junk and derelict buses. Financial hemorrhage. Bankruptcy.

In all the modes of transport disrupted by government intrusion and incompetence, there was only one result–failure. Or rather, abject failure. As we often say, government‘s involvement in the transport business has been unblemished by success.

I am reminding the public of all these facts and backgrounders because the public hearing on the proposed emergency powers to be vested on the traffic czar has started. Sections 6 and 7 are worth reading. Under these two sections, the government can just take over the land transport business after the cancellation of franchises and the revision of rules. And the total upending of the Public Service Act.

What is more nightmarish than the metropolitan traffic is definitely this: a government-run and -operated land transport sector.


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  1. If at all, this article is not a complete analysis. It is only aimed at casting aspersions to the proposed emergency powers being sought after.

    It is not just in the transport the sector that government has failed; but, in the entire process of governance in the Philippines that has resulted in abject poverty of the people and a scandalously high proportion of Forbes list entrants coming from the Philippines.

    It reeks of booty capitalism resulting from a system of governance that has worked successfully against the people. Since Magellan and the creation of Imperial Manila, the people have been kept ignorant and poor by this system that was designed to subjugate and plunder these islands rich in natural resources and gentle people.

  2. To limit one’s view ONLY in the Philippines with regards to public transportation is very short-sighted and skewed. Maybe in the Philippines, government interference has not been successful. However if one looks at the public transportation systems in Europe, then one will be pleasantly surprised that most of them are government-owned & operated and most of them are extremely efficient and quite profitable. It is wrong to assume that just because the government is going to involved in an enterprise, that it necessarily means it will fail. Perhaps the fault is with the locals who manage the system. The Filipino psyche is notorious for deeply-ingrained negative attitudes like “Pwede na Yan” or “Hayaan mo na at problema na yan nung papalit sa atin”.

    • The globalists/oligarchs are bent on preventing the government from engaging in businesses that will compete with the private sector, especially in public utilities like transportation. It will interfere with their plans to gain massive, untold profits at no risk to them, and at the expense of the people. That is the rationale behind this article.