The Department of Transportation (DOTr), through its attached agencies under the maritime sector, is employing an “all hands on deck” approach in carrying out recovery efforts in maritime operations and in building various transport infrastructure.
This, as the country starts to ease restrictions and roll out vaccination programs against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) nationwide.
In a virtual press briefing Wednesday, March 3, officials from the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), and the Cebu Ports Authority (CPA) laid out the latest developments and plans of their respective agencies amid the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago said that the agency remains committed in building and developing port projects across the archipelago, as infrastructure projects remain crucial in the inter-zonal movement of people and goods across the country.
“For almost a year, our ports have remained open amid the pandemic to service the needs of the country, particularly in the delivery of essential products to various island destinations. The PPA likewise went full blast in its infrastructure projects,” Santiago said.
In 2020 alone, a total of 27 port projects were completed amid the pandemic. Of this number, 16 are set to be inaugurated this year, according to Santiago. Completed were development projects in the following ports: (Luzon) Abra de Ilog and Port of Bansud, Oriental Mindoro; Port of Carmen, Romblon; (Visayas) Port of Dumaguete; Port of Tagbilaran, Bohol; Port of Ormoc, Leyte; (Mindanao) Port of Cagayan de Oro; Port of Babak, Samal Island; and Port of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur.
The PPA boss also shared that the agency is gearing up for the expected surge in cargo volume, as economic activities accelerate. However, in terms of passenger traffic, PPA forecasts passenger volume to only be around 25-27 million from 2021 up to 2023, or a growth percentage of about 2 percen, which is way below the pre-COVID-19 traffic of almost 84 million passengers annually.
On the part of the PCG, Commandant Admiral George Ursabia Jr. said PCG personnel continue to serve as frontliners during rescue and relief operations, as well as health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also relentless in providing quality public service and assistance through the Task Force Bayanihan for returning Filipinos.
Ursabia also stressed that the PCG aims to recruit more Coast Guard personnel in order to increase its roster by 5,500 before the year ends, and reach a force 24,000-strong by the end of December 2021. Of the additional personnel, 4,000 will be assigned to support PCG operations, while 1,500 will be support operations of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
“The Philippine Coast Guard, especially in this time of pandemic, is seen anywhere and everywhere. Our men and women are deployed, not only in coastal areas, but also in airports, roads, and even in train stations to ultimately uphold public health and safety,” the commandant said.
On the part of MARINA, Administrator Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said efforts to support and protect the welfare of Filipino seafarers are ongoing, including the digitalization of processes for application requirements and the planned vaccination of Filipino mariners.
“Nakikipag-ugnayan kami kay Secretary (Carlito) Galvez, sa IATF (We are already coordinating with Secretary Carlito Galvez of the Inter-Agency Task Force), for the prioritization of the COVID-19 vaccination of our seafarers. I am very confident that this will be approved,” Empedrad said.
“For future plans, we have the implementation of e-certificates for seafarers. This has been discussed at the IMO level,” he added.
Lastly, Cebu Ports Authority (CPA) General Manager Leonilo Miole revealed several major infrastructure projects for 2021. These include the New Cebu International Container Port Project, which is expected to start civil works by July of this year.
He also noted that Cebu port terminals remain open for the continuous movement of goods in the region. “All cargo operations by international and domestic vessels are continued to ensure the unhampered movement of cargoes.”