The Batangas Container Terminal (BCT) is considered the most modern container terminal south of Luzon. The 12-hectare facility is equipped with cargo handling cranes and equipment, and can handle 300,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually.
The terminal has been operational for over two years now. But despite its modernity and capacity to serve major manufacturing hubs in the Calabarzon, it remains grossly underutilized.
The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) in Batangas province and private port operator Asian Terminals Inc. (ATI) put the utilization rate at a very low 8 percent to 10 percent, already an improvement from the 4.2 percent utilization in 2011.
Batangas PPA Manager Leopoldo Biscocho said only one international liner, MCC Transport, services the port weekly for the last 10 months.
“We have no liners calling here because we don’t have enough containerized cargo, and because we don’t have enough vessels, the cargo won’t come,” Biscocho said.
At present, business locators get significant discounts on port dues because BCT offers lower cargo-related costs compared to Manila ports. Manila’s arrastre charges P3,241 for a 20-foot container, while BCT charges only P3,078. For export containers, Batangas charges P2,513, lower than Manila’s P2,646.
Late last year, President Benigno Aquino 3rd approved a 50 percent discount on vessel charges valid until October this year, but PPA said the hefty discount has not attracted more shipping lines to the Batangas port.
ATI was formally awarded the 25-year contract to manage and develop the terminal in 2010.
“By providing world-class port services in BCT, clients can enjoy the potential for increased efficiency and productivity especially those located within a 50-kilometer radius from the port,” said ATI Corporate Communications Manager Doan Bustamante.
Among the benefits to shippers that Bustamante mentioned are significant savings from discounts, savings on freight transport, fast release of shipment due to expedient processing of the Bureau of Customs in Batangas and competitive trucking and logistics services.
For the first two years of operation, ATI paid government a fixed fee of $2.26 million plus a percentage of the projected or actual income, whichever is higher. Now on their 3rd year, they are to pay $4.68 million for the fixed fee alone.
ATI is not revealing if it has reached their target revenue, saying BCT is still a start-up port.
Built in the mid 90s, the terminal was envisioned to be an alternate port to decongest Manila ports. It was also meant to provide a hub for economic locators in Calabarzon, a region with a large concentration of manufacturing industries and export zones.
According to Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, who was the governor of Batangas when the BCT was being constructed, the vision for the Batangas port started during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
“It started way back in the mid 70s. There was a need to move traffic from the port of Manila to Batangas because of congestion. All these expressways were also planned during that time and was approved by NEDA,” Mandanas said.
He recalls building a livelihood center to support families that were displaced by the project and having been awarded the right to develop phase 3, which, he said, never pushed through.
Mandanas admits he is not satisfied with the port’s slow development.
“The port was a vision of the 70s. We’re already in the year 2013,” he said.
Hernando Perez, a former representative of the second district of Batangas where the port is located, is also disappointed.
“The target was to achieve integrated development. That’s the very reason why the Southern Arterial Road (STAR) was constructed, to service the faster delivery of goods from the port,” he said.
The terminal, while located 120 kilometers south of Manila, is directly linked to Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) and South Luzon Expressway, which allows passengers to travel the 120 kilometers in less than two hours.
“In the 90’s, Batangas was second to Manila port in terms of revenue. With the port, industries are supposed to increase in Batangas. Instead they go farther away,” he said.
The Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines earlier this year said they support the move to shift port traffic from Manila to Batangas. However, they were quick to point out the need to safeguard the interest of port users by ensuring access to the port without being harassed.
To be continued