Several truckers who have used the Batangas Container Terminal (BCT) lamented that a local trucking association is monopolizing and controlling the movements of trucks in the city.
While hesitant to provide a name, truckers say it is common knowledge that the association is controlled by someone who belongs to an influential family.
A trucker who requested anonymity said she was questioned by this local trucking association when she started servicing Batangas port two years ago.
“I told them that I am already a member of the trucking association in Manila but they said that I still have to be a member of the local association. I’m lucky because I know an official inside the port so they eventually let me go, but if you don’t know anybody, you’ll be stuck there.”
The trucker said brokers are asked to pay P3,500 per trip per truck, making it more expensive to use BCT compared to Manila ports.
“These people are operating inside the port. They even have access to Customs because they have connections inside.”
Asian Terminals Inc. (ATI) Corporate Communications Manager Doan Bustamante however said these are merely allegations.
“These are mere allegations which the local government of Batangas, with the joint efforts of PPA and ATI, have adequately addressed and dispelled. Manila-based truckers are now more comfortable in fact in plying Batangas, and so are manufacturers in entrusting their cargoes to these Manila-based truckers,” Bustamante said when asked to comment on the issue.
“It is generally hard to welcome anything outside the status quo (or one’s comfort zone–Manila Ports), regardless of what logic dictates. We tend to over analyze things prior to actually undertaking tangible measures to effect a change. Nonetheless, we feel that the Batangas initiative and awareness is now making headway, and sustaining this will be crucial in fully harnessing its potentials,” he added.
The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) in Batangas agreed that the allegations are mere hearsay because nobody has ever come forward to file a formal complaint.
However, PPA Manager Leopoldo Biscocho Biscocho admitted there may have been a mistake in the projections for the port.
“I would say that there may be some error in the feasibility study, but that’s just my opinion,” Biscocho said.
While there are a lot of manufacturing industries in Southern Luzon, Biscocho said manufactured goods are not that voluminous for containerized cargo shipping.
“Our manufacturing industries here produce computer chips. How can you expect 50-60 container vans of that?”
He also said that most shipments are Manila-bound making it impractical for companies to unload in BCT.
“We had the opportunity to examine a shipment last year. There were 100 containers unloaded here. Out of 100 containers, only two were bound for Batangas, the rest is for Manila and Caloocan,” Biscocho said.
Aside from BCT which is situated in the city proper of Batangas, private ports exist in nearby towns of Bauan and Mabini. Privately owned ports are not covered by PPA’s mandated tariffs and port revenue fees allowing them to charge lower rates.
ATI acknowledged that while these facilities are niche market ports, they also account for some volume which BCT could ably and proficiently accommodate.
“The government through PPA does not get much revenue from these private ports as compared to government commercial ports. What this also means is that private ports can charge lower rates compared to public ports, hence creating undue advantage in their favor. There should be a level playing field to encourage market-driven competition, where we feel ATI’s Batangas Port has the edge given its quality of facilities and depth in aptitude and experience,” Bustamante said.
Whether issues and challenges presented by various parties are mere allegations or justifications, or are in fact contributing to the underutilization of BCT, Mandanas and Perez believe this concern needs the intervention of national government.
“The government has already invested billions for the expressway and the port of Batangas. It only takes one order coming from the national government for vessels to use BTC, and it’s a valid order. That’s the reason why we have PPA, Immigration, Customs here but nobody dares (use BCT),” Mandanas said.
“The national government has to step in. It is the only way to fix the problem and make the Batangas port realize what is was designed to achieve,” said Perez.
Meanwhile, the management of ATI remains confident that they are making significant strides. According to them, carriers and locators are now onboard and more are seriously looking into BCT and the opportunities that await them there.
ATI has also stepped up their marketing efforts to increase awareness by joining local and regional logistics conferences to present the potentials of BCT.
“We have adapted a two-tiered approach to developing the market for BCT. First is carrier-focused, wherein we present our market case to regional shipping lines to entice them to call the port. The other is account-focused, wherein efforts are set to touch base with target customers, presenting them the benefits and advantages of the Port of Batangas,” Bustamante said.
With these elements in place, ATI believes business will soon pick up in the BCT.
“Given the commitment from all stakeholders down the value-chain–from the port operator, the shipping line, consignees, truckers and government–we are confident that the time for Batangas Port to thrive will happen sooner than later. After all, its success is not merely for ATI, but more importantly is in support of the country’s growing economy and ultimately for the benefit of consumers,” Bustamante said.