• If you care about jobs, prices and growth, read on

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    First of two parts

    The family of six driving north from Manila weeks ago didn’t know much about the city’s truck ban or the resulting mammoth cargo pileup at its container terminals. Nor did they think the port congestion would lead to an accident that would kill them, except an infant protected by her grandmother’s body, when an untrained driver lost control of a trailer truck, and its massive shipping container fell on their family van.

    Despite nil skill, the trailer driver took the wheel because the regular one quit due to extended working stints. The truck ban made drivers wait so long before driving to or from ports, turning their 8-hour workdays into shifts of 14-48 hours.

    Many quit, and trucking firms had to scramble for new drivers, including a cargo hand who had only maneuvered trucks at the depot a few times. On the road he broke the trailer rule never to overtake a moving vehicle, and the family in the van paid for it.

    That tragic accident was one among many distressing results of Manila’s truck ban and port congestion. More widely reported consequences are escalating prices and tight supplies of imported goods, disrupted factories and idled workers due to lacking raw materials, and exporters losing money and orders for late shipments.

    This two-part article covers leading causes of the problem, of which hauler restrictions are but one. It will also report key recommendations under discussion in ports forums on November 17 and 27. Those of us who care about jobs, prices, profits, investment, growth, and competitiveness should pay attention and, if we can, support speedy action.

    Here’s how bad things got. Congestion imposed a debilitating drag not only on growth and profits, but also on competitiveness and investor confidence. It’s one reason why the country’s most recent competitiveness rating dropped. August exports too fell, by a hefty 10.5 percent. One company was $3 million in the red after shipping goods by air to meet deadlines, while three apparel firms lost $6 million in orders, according to the Export Development Council.

    In July, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned that the cargo crunch would make it hard for 2014 economic growth to match last year’s 7.2 percent rise. And in both July and August, inflation hit 4.9 percent, the highest in nearly three years. The price surge began in April, the month after Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada reduced the hours when trucks could ply city streets in a bid to ease traffic.

    The national government finally took action in September, belatedly ending hauler restrictions and shifting tens of thousands of containers from the city’s overcrowded terminals to Subic and Batangas ports. Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, head of the Cabinet cluster on ports, recently said congestion had eased. But he admitted that things would normalize only in January. That’s when shipments drop sharply after the crush of Christmas cargo.

    Public-private dialogue for effective action
    Thankfully, government and business are putting their heads and hands together to devise and roll out lasting solutions to end the present squeeze and prevent its repeat. This public-private partnership for ports includes two high-powered forums, one held yesterday at the Manila Hotel, and another on Thursday next week, called by the Cabinet cluster under Almendras.

    Yesterday’s The Ports Summit, attended by some 200 mostly business people, was convened by the Port Users Confederation (PUC), which groups sectors using or providing port services, with advice and planning support from think tank Center for Strategy, Enterprise and Intelligence (CenSEI), headed by this writer.

    Sponsoring the summit were the country’s leading port operators, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) and Asian Terminals, Inc. (ATI). Attending yesterday were PUC member associations representing major industries including manufacturing and retailing, other importing or exporting sectors, customs brokers, trucking firms, shipping lines, port operators, and other stakeholders. Also invited were major business chambers, including PCCI and leading foreign associations.

    More than just the truck ban
    Many think the truck ban was the only problem: not so. Another was personnel and procedural changes at the Bureau of Customs. In fighting contraband, BoC Commissioner John Sevilla and his boss Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima idled dozens of longtime customs people, and replaced them with new ones, most with little or no knowledge of the bureau’s complex laws, rules and processes.

    Result: the new team, unsure about what’s allowed and what’s not, raised alerts far more frequently than before, holding up countless containers, as many as 100 or more at a time, for rigorous inspection. Clearing the cargo for release took weeks or even months, with the process going up to Commissioner Sevilla himself.

    Even perishable and seasonal items were covered, and many got rotten or out of season long before release. For such shipments, it made sense for importers to just abandon them, since their value was nil or not enough to cover the huge storage and other port charges piled up.

    Though unbanned, truckers now lack men and machines. Many drivers had resigned, as noted earlier, and operators unable to find replacements often sold unmanned haulers. Many more may be taken out of service if authorities goes ahead with plans to phase out vehicles older than 15 years—which comprise the bulk of fleets.

    More problems on Thursday —and what to do about them. Stay tuned.

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    9 Comments

    1. Mr. Saludo, Thank you for this informative article. I hope that during the next forum, trucking firms, exporters and the rest of the participants will be more transparent to discuss “kotong” as one of the alleged reasons for the port congestion. Effective solutions must be discussed and implemented prior to the Philippines participation in the ASEAN integration in 2015. If not, chaos, confusion, losses in capital and loss of credibility in doing business would negatively impact our country’s efforts to sustain our economic standing.

    2. TO DUSTIN: Thanks for pointing out the obvious, that it was the driving and not the port congestion that killed that family. You can add that to your list of observations about the people here, that many of them cannot see the heads and tails of their logic. Why is the big mystery to me.

    3. Im sorry i didnt comment on the port congestion but it wasnt that what had those family killed it was this countries policies on driving. But to talk about the port congestion again its down to incompetance by government. When i see them speak of these things or of most things i have to laugh as i think to myself what a load of idiots. They sound granduer & speak with conviction but its such a backward way of thinking. They dont seem to ever learn. You will notice very rarely will a pinoy in any postion of power will never admit to doing something wrong, to making a mistake, it was because of something else, it was someone else who caused it, you know how it goes, its called passing the buck. Its endemic in pinoy culture.

    4. continued
      Of extra jobs with all the people employed to teach you to drive to test your driving skills & for all people involved in those industries in other ways. As usual in the philippines they see how it works well in other countries but they know better & do it their way & its almost always the wrong way or a bad way. It seems their stupidity will never change.

    5. When you speak of people getting killed by bad driving its usually because of bad drivers. Now what is a bad driver, ill tell you, its a filipino, why, very simple because they dont have to learn properly. This is where all your problems start. Ill tell you a few things to show you how easy it is to sort out & how by doing it the country as a whole will prosper. Im a brit so i will use the uk as a bench mark.
      We in the uk lijke in every other country want to be able to drive. We have to take lessons ( not by law ) but because when we take our driving tests they are very deifficult & your driving instructor will teach you how to drive considering the road laws & other road users & pedestrians & animals & everything else that arises every day with driving. We have a theory test ( aoubt rd signs, road markings etc etc ). Then we have a very difficult road driving test that lasts up to an hour.
      Once you have passed your test you can now drive legally on the roads. But you are still learning as it takes a long time to become a competent driver.
      Therein lies the problem in the philippines. You get a 1 hour seminar. & that qualifies you to drive.
      Now in the uk you can drive, you still cant drive any trucks, & the tests are different & we have tests for class 1, class 2 & for 7.5 ton trucks. But before you can take a test to drive trucks you have to have i think 2 years driving experience before you can take that test.
      Now when you get your truckers licence or any vehicle over 7.5 ton, you have extra driving rules to abide by & they monitor these rules stringently. Its the ammount of hours per day you can legally drive & the breaks you have to take during that driving day.
      Then look at the uk & look at the philippines & see why you have so many accidents & its so easy, but your dumb governments & i mean all of them wont change the status quo. Doing it the uk way, you will have thousands of…

      • the land transportation office which is tasked to give out drivers’ licenses and registration of vehicles do have tests given to applicants for drivers’ license and also practical driving tests before one is given a driver’s license. that is what they are supposed to do. but something happens during the process and we end up with drivers who know how to operate the machine (vehicle) but not know the rules of driving. like for these public utility vehicles (buses, jeepneys, tricycle), those driving these vehicles have the required driver’s licenses but look at the way they drive. most accidents are because drivers do not know how to drive properly. they only know how to operate the vehicle. i had experienced getting a driver’s license in the u.s.a. and they are really strickt in their tests, both written and practical driving.

    6. wow, akala ng marami si erap ang may sala. itong dahilan na ito ang ginawang palusot ng mga kkk. yun pala ay isa si erap na naging mitsa ng problema sa port of manila. ang malaking salarin pala ay ang pag walis sa mga old timers. siguro kaya tinangal ni erap yung truck ban ay para makaiwas sya sa pang sisisi ni boy sisi. eto nga lumalabas na ang totoo. i wonder how sec balisacan can still say, based on news report, that the gnp/gdp will be around 7% yata (am not sure if i got it correctly, pero sabi nya sa praise release nya ay low end daw ng estimate)

    7. P. Akialamiro@yahoo.com on

      Is this not one of those where the “kotong” per truck has to be raised? I heard there such an ‘S.O.P.” . Just curious!.