• Stop whining about Manila’s truck ban

    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    As much as I disapprove of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada generally, I am finding it impossible to sympathize with the strident protests from a variety of sectors about the “truck ban” his office has imposed as a traffic-control measure in the city.

    The contentious ordinance would have banned all trucks from plying city roads between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, but was modified after the threat of a transport strike by truckers’ associations to allow loaded trucks to travel designated routes during a five-hour daytime window between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (unloaded trucks are still restricted to night-only travel). This compromise is still not good enough, apparently, because some concerned stakeholders—representatives of economic zones in the Calabarzon (Region 4A), truck operators, and even the Bureau of Customs—continue to whine about the grievous economic harm Manila’s efforts to get a handle on its atrocious traffic problems are doing to their businesses.

    I think I have a reasonable solution to the difficulties now being suffered by the various interests that rely on Manila port traffic: Suck it up. If your business is so fragile that a measure to impose what are actually fairly mild limitations on a single part of your supply chain threatens your survival, you either need to brush up on your planning skills immediately or hire someone with a little more imagination to sort out your logistics for you.

    Interested parties like the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) or Mayor Jose Ricafrente of Rosario, Cavite (home to the Cavite Export Processing Zone) do not seem to grasp that supporting their interests was not actually part of the mandate handed to Estrada and his Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno when the voters elected them. Whatever criticisms can be made of the Estrada-Moreno duo (the mayor’s willingness to liberally share credit with his understudy and presumptive successor is in itself rather admirable), it cannot be said that they have not squarely and very visibly taken on one of their city’s most obvious nagging problems—the heretofore completely unmanageable congestion.

    And although it was presumably unintentional, Manila’s decision to restrict truck traffic may provoke a debate on development that the country should have started a half-century ago. The Port of Manila, much like the ill-starred Ninoy Aquino International Airport, is an anachronism. No other major intermodal cargo port anywhere in the world is located in the heart of a city. Not only is Manila’s outdated arrangement—which was developed when galleons were the workhorses of the seas—terribly inefficient, it is destructive as well. (Dodging a steady stream of container trucks is a regular feature of a visit to The Times’ offices along A. Soriano Avenue). I would bet real money that there is not a qualified architect, historian, or engineer in this country who can make a valid argument that routing heavy truck traffic through Intramuros does not have any ill effects on one of the country’s historic treasures.

    Luzon has other viable port options in Subic and Batangas, but clearly it needs one more in the form of a productive replacement for Manila’s 18th-century relic. If Rosario’s Mayor Ricafrente spent a little less time pointlessly criticizing the actions of one in his peer group and a little more proactively pursuing the interests of his own bailiwick, he might realize that his town is actually an ideal candidate for a new port. Of course, the box that Philippine leaders do their thinking in always turns out to be a lot larger than we imagine; that’s why they never seem to think outside of it.

    * * *

    Word from the House Committee on Labor and Employment this week is that one of the four (possibly five) bills floating around the Philippine Legislature carrying some variation of the title “A Magna Carta for Workers in the Informal Economy” has been referred to a Technical Working Group for further study, which is one or two steps farther than this utterly pointless and exploitative idea should have ever been allowed to proceed. The particular version of the bill being studied is House Bill No. 3400 principally authored by Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo of Aurora, but it is not significantly different from any of the other dozen or so measures that have been introduced (and died a justly-ignored death) in any of the past five Congresses.

    While the plight of “workers in the informal economy” is appreciated, simply launching a program that would expand the definition of “informal workers” beyond all reasonable application, and then make a half-hearted attempt to institutionalize infor–malism by imposing new layers of bureaucracy and fees on people who are already scratching for a living does not just miss the point, it misses all of them. And does so at a considerable cost to the people it claims to help; a similar measure filed last year estimated government revenue from fees for “accreditation” of informal workers or enterprises would be from P1.23 billion to P2.46 billion per year.

    As I wrote in a blog in 2012 about an earlier attempt to pass an informal workers’ bill, the measure does nothing more than pour resources better used elsewhere into an already faulty system: “Chances are pretty good that a guy selling cigarettes in the street doesn’t really think of it as a career, and would take advantage of a fair opportunity to work towards something better. But his govern–ment’s giving up on the tougher jobs of rationalizing the education system and encouraging long-term employment growth in favor of hanging a fig leaf of legitimacy on the extralegal economy is not doing that guy, or the millions like him, any favors.”

    Congress seems to have developed a mania for filing ridiculous legislation lately. Let’s hope this latest “Magna Carta” is filed in the same dustbin along with other dubious ideas like “let’s make adobo the national food.”



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