In an effort to arrest the gridlock in Metro Manila caused by mounting cargoes in the country’s capital, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya earlier announced the designation of Batangas port  as Manila’s “extension.”

Batangas port operator Asians Terminal Inc. said it is presently at an 80 percent utilization rate considering a static capacity of over 7,000 TEUs (twenty-footer equivalent units) at any given time.

“At the moment we are waiting for the implementing rules of the cabinet cluster but we are ready to extend whatever help possible to make it happen,” said ATI Corporate Communications Manager Doan Bustamante.

Earlier this year, ATI reiterated that Batangas Container Terminal (BCT) is ready and capable of handling (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Quezon) Calabarzon’s shipments given its complement of two modern quay cranes, four rubber-tired gantry cranes and other cargo handling  equipment for an annual throughput capacity of 350,000 TEUs making it more than sufficient to accommodate Calabarzon’s current and future cargoes.

Batangas PPA Manager Atty. Leopoldo Biscocho confirmed that while they still have space to accommodate containers, they have reportedly exceeded their capacity and are currently housing more than 2,000 empty containers.

“Instead of transferring unclaimed containers here in Batangas, they should just be brought directly to the warehouse of the cargo owner as the port should not be used as a warehouse,” Biscocho said.

Local Customs collector Ernesto Benitez said their office has yet to receive a copy of the implementing rules and regulations but assured their support for the plan.

“We have also requested for additional personnel to ensure the speedy and smooth processing of documents here.  If it will be considered a trans shipment, meaning the ship will off load here but processing will be in Manila, we will implement strict security measures so that the case of the missing containers will not happen again,”  Benitez said.

Despite the readiness of agencies involved, local officials are wary with the proposal.

The Batangas Container Port has a total land area of 80 hectares, however, only 30 hectares are presently being used by ATI.

Batangas Second District Rep. Raneo Abu said the remaining 50 hectares originally meant for the expansion was leased by PPA to private company AG&P for five years, a question he raised during the recent inspection of the Congress Committee on Transportation.

“PPA knows about the congestion in Manila port. Renting this out to a private entity does not make any sense, it’s illogical. This move only shows that PPA has no foresight and had no intention of increasing port operations in Batangas,” Abu said.

“This space which is actually bigger than what we are using now could have very well served the purpose of accommodating more containers or installing additional equipment should there be an immediate need,” he added.

Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos Recto shares the same sentiment.

“The Batangas Port is now operating at almost full capacity.  The national government through the Philippine Ports Authority needs to make necessary investments to increase its capacity ASAP.  Dapat mabantayan at mapangalagaan din ang Batangas port [Batangas port should also be monitored and well-taken care of],” the governor said.