The Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), operated by International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), is hailed as a global model for port development and operation. But the road system linking it with other ports in Manila and beyond remains underdeveloped. As a result, heavy traffic involving container trucks and smaller cargo vehicles is a regular occurrence on the big roads of Metro Manila.
The Philippine government actually has an entity to initiate and manage port development in the entire archipelago. This is the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), an agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications. Should the PPA be solely blamed for the port congestion? The answer should be no, because the development of ports—and the roll out of shipments they receive—should be an integrated activity that involves the road planning of the metropolis, urban development, and even traffic management.
It is, therefore, wrong to blame the proliferation of trucks on the provisional authority given for them to operate even without a franchise is barking up the wrong tree. In the first place, more trucks are needed to efficiently move huge volumes of cargo from the ports.
And blaming the PPA for the horrible traffic is also wrong.
There was a time when port development was a bright spot in the Philippines. During the Ramos Administration the PPA was seen as an economic leader in pushing for the integrated development of ports throughout the country. The Ramos administration saw the value of upgrading the Manila port area into a major transshipment point. Thus, the MICT emerged as one of the best-operated ports in Southeast Asia and ICTSI became a world achiever. Commendably, ICTSI has won contracts, for and executed with excellence, major port development and management projects abroad.
The development of the Batangas Port also started during the Ramos Administration. There was long-term planning then. The booming of industries in the Calabarzon area at that time prompted government port planners to start developing another major international port in Batangas City. Together with the development of the Batangas port was the development of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road or STAR Tollway, which now provides an efficient link between Sto. Tomas and Batangas City. There were even plans to improve the network of the Philippine National Railways so containerized cargo can be moved more efficiently outside of Metro Manila by rail.
Many years have passed since the end of the Ramos administration in 1996. One wonders why all of a sudden the problem of congested ports has hit us in Metro Manila like a curse under the Benigno Aquino Administration.
There has been no appreciable increase in properly declared imports.
But there has been an astronomical surge of smuggling into the country.
Figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the annual average value of smuggled shipments that entered our country in 2011 and 2012 (the 2013 figures are still being tabulated) is more than six times or more than 600 percent larger than the $3-billion annual average during the years of the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidencies.
In cash, the average annual value of the shipments unrecorded by the Bureau of Customs in 2011 and 2012 was $19 billion (therefore, the Philippine government lost $38 billion in those two years.) This annual $19 billion average value of smuggled imports is more than six times the $3-billion annual average of smuggled imports during the Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo years.
Undeclared, smuggled products do occupy space too. They require the same number of trucks as recorded tax-paid imports do to be rolled out of the ports.