The past few months have been quite a strenuous time for the Port of Manila. Partly, one major factor behind this was the truck ban implemented by the Manila City Government against trucks plying the streets of the city during key hours of the day. (the original hours of the truck ban was virtually whole day from 5 AM–9 PM, but was tweaked so there were window hours set in place for trucks to ply the city streets from 10 AM-3 PM) While the jury’s out whether the truck ban has alleviated traffic in the city, the idea itself gained traction as other cities in the metropolis implemented their own truck ban policies.
Nevertheless, the policies have aggravated the longstanding issue that is being raised about the situation in the Port of Manila: congestion. With trucks unable to ply at the hours they usually ply, the already congested port became more congested as cargoes have been stalled in the port, reaching the port’s capacity to “dangerous levels.” There were also fears that there would shortage of certain goods that would be brought about with this situation. One can imagine the sigh of relief when on September 13, after about 7 months of controversial implementation, the Manila City Government under Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada indefinitely lifted the truck ban policy so to address the issue of congestion in the port.
In retrospect, while it is easy and not without merit to blame the City of Manila for this whole mess, it would be wise for us to look at the bigger picture and see that there is a bigger problem at hand. In particular, we should look at the bigger issue as to how the Port of Manila is being utilized right now, or to be more specific, over-utilized. Not well-thought of as it may be, the actions of the Manila City Government were not without rhyme or reason considering how long the city has been suffering with all the traffic and congestion in the city streets brought about by these vehicular behemoths on the road.
While it can be countered, with merit, that the Port of Manila is getting all this traffic because it is the main port of the country, does it deserve to handle all the traffic than it can accommodate. Let us remember the infrastructure of the port has been around for 50-100 years ago, back when cargo traffic was not as massive as we are seeing right now and the technology in the port is not yet fully ready to meet the demands of the times. It is also noteworthy to add that a significant portion of the cargo from the port is not intended for Manila but to other parts of Luzon, at least.
Which brings us to Manila’s nearby ports. In particular, we have Subic Port at the nearby north and Batangas Port at the nearby south. Both ports are relatively young but have the necessary technology and space to accommodate the cargo from the ships that will go to the north (for Subic) or south, (for Batangas) thus saving time and money for the goods to get to their respective destinations. Why many shippers still prefer going to Manila is a puzzle at least, and it unfairly deprives Subic and Batangas, considering what they can offer.
The latest news is that the national government has decreed through Executive Order 172 that Batangas and Subic ports are considered “extensions” of the Port of Manila that would be utilized in case of congestion or other emergencies happening in Manila. While the Urban Roamer lauds this move as long-overdue one, it should not be a “just in case” basis. Shippers should and must learn to utilize these ports and lessen their dependence on Manila, especially if the goods are going to be sent far north or far south from the capital. After all, the JICA Dream Plan itself directed the utilization of these ports to help decongest Manila, as well as a long-term solution for the development not only of the city but of the country as a whole.
Another long-term solution to ease Manila’s congestion problems is something a bit more political but somehow makes sense. And that is to federalize the country, with each region would become self-sustaining enough for it to develop its own port where cargoes can directly be delivered instead of going through Manila. This will spur a more balanced growth for different parts of the country and it will benefit these regions as well as Manila in the long run.
Let us hope that Manila’s port problems will help spur a more balanced and sustainable development in our ports and in our country’s economy as a whole.
Acknowledgements as well to the Philippine Star, Rappler, and the Inquirer