• ‘Gravity well’ of stupidity

    15
    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    In astronomy, a “gravity well” is a concept that describes the attractive force of a body of mass; the larger the mass, the more gravity it has, and therefore, the “deeper” the well.

    We have a gravity well right here in Metro Manila, one that is just about as deep as that of a black hole—the ultimate example, because no matter can escape from it—because the mass that lies at the bottom of it is made up of the pure stupidity of a vast swath of the country’s business and government sectors.

    If you have had a reason to venture anywhere within about 20 kilometers or so of central Manila in the past couple of days, you will have undoubtedly noticed that the metropolis has virtually ground to a halt. Traffic has become gridlocked on many of the city’s major thoroughfares, and while Metro Manila has never been the easiest city to move around in, the conditions have become utterly ridiculous.

    The immediate reason for this is the implementation yesterday (Monday) of the “last mile” truck routing scheme approved by the government at the end of last week in an attempt to clear a backlog of about 120,000 shipping containers, about a third of which are empty, clogging the Port of Manila’s two terminals. Under the new scheme trucks that are tagged with a special “last mile” permit issued by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA)—or rather, a tag that says “LASMAYL,” as MMDA Chairman Francis “A Bus Can Carry About 150 People, Can’t It?” Tolentino displayed to the media last week, because nothing says “official” like the use of Pidgin English—will be allowed to travel certain routes through the city 24 hours a day for the next two weeks, by which time the number of stranded containers will hopefully be reduced to a manageable level.

    This latest plan was made necessary because earlier modifications of the “truck ban” imposed by the cities of Manila, Navotas, and Caloocan failed to relieve the pressure at the port. Those modifications, in turn, were made necessary by the Philippine Ports Authority, the Bureau of Customs, and the two port operators completely failing to grasp that the restrictions on truck traffic would oblige them to adjust their operations until the problem became unmanageable. And of course, the original truck ban was made necessary by the appalling congestion constant port traffic created on the city’s surface streets, which ultimately was a consequence of the country’s failing to recognize that its major cargo port is located in an area where transportation access hasn’t been adequate since about the time Jose Rizal was murdered nearby.

    So now the metropolis, and to some extent the entire country, is saddled with an enormous problem for which there is no solution: No matter what happens, everyone loses. The port cannot be allowed to be congested, because that delays the delivery of goods to businesses and consumers, slows or halts economic activity farther down the supply chain, and causes prices of things to increase. On the other hand, the port cannot be decongested, or even operated “normally” in the manner it was before the “truck ban” without creating nightmarish traffic . . . which in turn slows or halts economic activity in other areas.

    For a political culture that is so fond of “task forces” and “cabinet clusters” and appointing “czars” to manage large-scale issues, institutions in this country seem to be completely incapable of working with each other. It would not have taken a genius to see that Manila’s original idea of a truck ban would eventually lead to what we have now—a situation wherein instead of a choice between intolerable traffic congestion or cargo not moving fast enough, we have both—if everyone involved did not coordinate their activities. Instead they have settled for trading blame, which does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

    The time which a working-class commuter spends trudging along a couple of kilometers of the shoulder of a gridlocked NLEX in order to make it to his or her job is not changed by a nanosecond depending on whose fault it is. Businesses that cannot operate normally because their employees are hours late for work due to apocalyptic traffic are not going to lose less revenue if this agency is to blame for it instead of that one.

    All we can do at this point is hope the efforts being exerted now actually do bring some temporary relief, although that seems unlikely. Making full use of the ports in Subic and Batangas could relieve some strain as well, but only some of it; combined, the two have a yearly capacity that is only about one-fifth that of the Port of Manila. Even if all those measures are completely successful, eventually—probably sooner than anyone in a position to do anything about is even capable of anticipating—the situation will return to something like its present sorry state, with congestion at the port and the inadequate road network wreaking havoc on the economy and everyone’s peace of mind.

    The only effective solution is a new port for Manila, whether that means an entirely new facility in a different location or radically altering the existing cityscape to accommodate a sensible transport infrastructure capable of handling not only the existing port’s traffic, but growth that could be expected in the next several decades. Unfortunately, either option will require sacrifice, something that modern society in general—not just this one—tries to avoid. That, however, is the price of progress; the sooner it’s paid, the less painful it will be.

    ben.kritz@manilatimes.net.

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    15 Comments

    1. From Spanish times to the present, our ports have been moneymaking machines which only incidentally serve to handle goods. With a shoreline as vast as ours, a port’s MAIN function is to enforce a monopoly on the right to handle cargo, preventing others from doing the same, and thereby exact exclusive rents within each island.

      Nobody’s stupid but people have no qualms about pretending when it suits their interest. In a way, that’s worse than stupid because the truly stupid know enough to get out of the way.

      Gravity’s force being proportional to the square of the distance, here in Cebu at 20 times the distance from the Center as the pitiable residents of Metro Manila, we should only feel 1/400th of that stupidity.

    2. From Spanish times to the present, our ports have been moneymaking machines which only incidentally serve to handle goods. With a shoreline as vast as ours, a port’s MAIN function is to enforce a monopoly on the right to handle cargo, preventing others from doing the same, and thereby exact exclusive rents within each island.

      Nobody’s stupid but people have no qualms about pretending when it suits their inters. In a way, that’s worse than stupid because the truly stupid know enough to get out of the way.

      Gravity’s force being proportional to the square of the distance, here in Cebu at 20 times the distance from the Center as the pitiable residents of Metro Manila, we should only feel 1/400th of that stupidity.

    3. Placed end-to-end on the road, these 120,000 container vans and their trailer trujks will stretch out to a distance of some 1,600 kilometers. How long will this exodus really take to clear Manila ? Any stupid guess from the gang of stupids ? Most likely NOT in two weeks ! Walang Pasko and Pinoy in 2014. Mabubulok lahat ng mansanas at ubas sa pier.

    4. May this very well be the “Last Mile” of the village idiot. Once he is out, the rest of his gang of thieves and liars will fall one-by-one like dominoes. But let us not allow not even a single one of them escape JAIL !

    5. He he he, you are being had, Mr Kritz. We all are. This government is run by criminal syndicates and these are the bureaucrats who write the rules for the signature of clueless elected officials and their appointees. This is true for all government agencies.In this their latest caper, the syndicate found a way to spirit out containers loaded with contraband under your very nose without you smelling anything. MMDA is either clueless or they are on the take too. So you see, its not abysmal stupidity but genius that is at work here.

    6. victor m. hernandez on

      There are ports in Batangas, and Subic, apart from Manila. It makes sense for importers to designate Batangas or Subic, or Manila if the final delivery destination is nearest to any of these ports. Why designate Port of Manila, if the final delivery destination is Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Why not designate Batangas as the port, rather than Port of Manila? The problem is being created by the importer, and custom broker, unnecessarily. The ports of Batangas, and Subic are ready for business since many years already. Many importers or custom brokers are doing things out of habit.

      • Many who do not understand the logistics of cargo transport suggested the use of batangas n subic, i dont know about the present situation now that the ppa had decreased their rates in these 2 ports. I have heard that batangas is starting to experience congestion already. But prior to this crisis, would u believe that its cheaper to import even for calabarzon locators via manila ports even at the height of ports congestion w tons of charges like port congestion fee, container imbalance, storage, demurrage,detention fees. Although the delay is really a headache. Take note that the capacity of batangas port is only 9% 350,000 teu vis a vis micp(1.9m) ati (900k), north (900k) .subic capacity is 600,000 teu. Prior to this, there is only one shipping line w container yard in batangas.therefore all empty containers should be transported back to manila for ship out. All papers w shipping lines are still in manila. Problems with boc will still be resolved in manila.
        As mentioned by isko, d pa sya pinanganak, may truck ban na. but ERAP’S VERSION of TRUCK BAN included the BANNING of travel of EMPTY CONTAINERS during the allowable hours, this led to the port congestion as many empty containers were not loaded to departing ships. Note too, that 35% of the cargoes are intended for metro manila, but erap banned many of the main arterial roads some even 24/7 from port to these neighboring cities and even from port to inner tondo and binondo.
        Add the not well thought of n arrogant decision of ISKORAP and the inaction of the national government lead to this crisis, and subsequent inflation. This then spur the national govt finally to intervene albeit too late the hero. And we are now paying for it. We have to thank the national govt, past n present for their non vision.
        It behooves all stakeholder, the national govt, boc, ppa, LGU to make things right. Expand batangas port but make it economical for importers . or a port in cavite which can take up at least 50% of manila’s…

    7. Agree with the comment of Manny here. The solution is really the railroad network. Why not use the PNR first as a cargo train system instead of passenger train? That way, goods can be delivered to the Calabarzon without causing humungous traffic. And in the meantime government is planning the permanent infra to solve this problem. And Ben Kritz is right, too, there has to be a new port of Manila. Business cannot survive with the kind of infra we have.

    8. another problem is overcrowding. most province based citizens desire/ wang to work in manila because of the idiotic salary rate scheme. Provinces has a lower rate compared to the metro. imagine Rizal/bulacan/laguna/cavite province, which are adjacent to MM has a different salary rate so most just brave hour long commutes to earn a bit more.. hence the overcrowding.

    9. Ruben V. Calip on

      Wonderul article, again, Mr. Ben Kritz.

      This may be too trivial to bring up here. But I am a daily user of Roxas Boulevard.
      They alternately dug up half of the lanes the other year and last. Now they are again fixing some of the lanes on Roxas that they fixed lat year and in 2012. Are these DPWH people really so stupid? Or is it because if repairs are made contractors are made happy and maybe the vaunted best and most honest Cabinet department that PNoy praises to high heavens is really still corrupt?

    10. great idea! nobody in govt has thought of it. talk about not seeing the forest because of the trees…

    11. To Mr. Kritz,

      The solution is staring at their eyes. If the government officials specially DOTC would use our rail network to transfer the containers to CALABARZON. This kind of traffic scenario would not happen. The containers would only travel from South Harbor to Tutuban and then the train can deliver the containers to Cabuyao.

      Also, if they could rehabilitate the railroad up to Meycauyan, then we don’t need thousands of trucks to go to Manila.

      I’ve seen in Belgium, Germany and other European countries how effective the rail network is and they contribute a lot to the economy of those countries.

      Thanks

      • Sir Manny, malayong mangyari yan dahil ang mga opisyales ni Noynoy ay naka focus lang sa mga projects kung saan ay may mga oportyunidad na magkapera. I cannot believe they have enough sincerity to help this country move forward. See these flopping officials like Abad, Alcala, Abaya, Roxas, Almendras, Petilla and Ducut kapit tuko sa kanilang pwesto dahil alam nila na mahal sila ni Aquino, na pare-pareho ang utak.

      • victor m. hernandez on

        Yes, precisely. Why not indeed? Maybe this is a good case for Senate to do their oversight responsibility.

      • Obviously, moving one, maybe two containers at a time on a truck is horribly inefficient, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to figure that out (a truism that sort of contributed to the title of this rant). Any solution, however, is going to take a lot of work. The existing PNR is a basis for the rail network the port really needs, but obviously, it will require a fair amount of heavy-duty construction to make that work; I doubt the existing right-of-way could even support heavy cargo traffic for very long. But, as I’ve said in the article, the problem is only going to be solved when the government and other stakeholders can bring themselves to “suck it up” and put in the resources and effort it will take to make it happen. Two weeks of suspending the truck ban and tagging trucks with yet another kind of permit is going to accomplish precisely jack squat in the long run.