BBM inherits lots of transport projects & headaches

Published July 4, 2022, 12:40 AM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has inherited close to a thousand infrastructure projects from the Duterte administration.

However, the biggest of these are still to be completed, like the P488-billion Metro Manila Subway Project (MMSP), one of the Philippines’ largest infrastructure undertaking (target partial opening by 2025, with full operations slated by 2027) and the over P777-billion North-South Railway Project (NSRP), the 147 kilometer commuter line between Metro Manila and Legaspi City, the capital of Albay province.

It is up to Marcos to finish them now.

Notably, a good number of projects which the Department of Transportation (DOTr) completed under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte were also long-delayed and problematic initiatives inherited from the latter’s predecessors.

Just before the transition, on June 26, 2022, the DOTr reopened the Philippine National Railways (PNR)’s San Pablo-Lucena line, part of the long-haul NSRP which was mothballed for a decade after a supporting structure collapsed.

The 44-kilometer PNR line, which is capable of serving 3,683 passengers, started operating once more, cutting travel time between San Pablo,Laguna and Lucena, Quezon to 30 minutes from the usual one hour overland.

In the maritime sector, the DOTr, together with the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and Cebu Ports Authority (CPA), completed 600 commercial and social/tourism port projects in the 6 years of the Duterte administration.

The number includes 12 port projects expected to be finished by end of June 2022.

In Luzon, they have completed the Port of Salomague in Ilocos Sur as well as the Port of Puerto Princesa, San Fernando, Bataraza, and Borac in Palawan.

In the Visayas, they completed the Port of Tagbilaran, Port of Maribojoc, Port of Jagna, and Port of Dumaguete.

In Mindanao, they expanded and upgraded the Port of Cagayan de Oro, Port of Babak in Davao del Norte, and Makar Wharf or the General Santos Port.

Big-ticket seaport projects are also ongoing, such as the Port of Calapan, which will have a capacity of 3,500 passengers at any given time and the Port of Zamboanga, which can accommodate 4,000 passengers at any given time.

In the aviation and airports sector, the DOTr, together with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA), and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), completed 250 aviation and airport projects since 2016.

These include the new passenger terminal of the Clark International Airport, the new world-class Bicol International Airport, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Bohol-Panglao International Airport, Puerto Princesa International Airport, Zamboanga International Airport, Catarman Airport, Calbayog Airport, Siquijor Airport, General Santos Airport, Ormoc Airport, Virac Airport, Camiguin Airport, Butuan Airport, among others.

Even in the final stretch of the current administration, the DOTr’s Aviation and Airports Sector continued to oversee the developments at the NAIA, Vigan Airport, Surigao Airport, Siargao Airport, and Davao International Airport.

Other notable projects include the establishment of the long-delayed Communications, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM), as well as the night-rating of 23 commercial airports, in a bid to increase their operational efficiency and reduce daytime flight congestion.

However, Marcos took over right in the midst of an industry in crisis, with public transport lacking capacity and skyrocketing fuel prices, the unsolved road traffic congestion in Metro Manila, the undecided fate of the public utility vehicle modernization program, among other issues.

And there’s the matter of rehabilitating the country’s main international gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which some say should be a priority in the first 100 days of Marcos’ rule.

“One of the original sins of the previous administration has been the cancelation of the NAIA rehabilitation public-private partnership (PPP),” according to Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convenor and former House transportation committee member.

Earlier, Megawide Construction Corp. and its partner GMR Infrastructure Ltd. of India stated they “never closed their doors” on the P109 Billion rehabilitation and upgrade of NAIA and intend to pursue it should the next administration be interested in the project.

After nearly two years of failed discussions with several of the country’s largest conglomerates, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) asked Megawide to consider resubmitting its 2018 proposal to rehabilitate the NAIA.

Megawide and GMR proposed to increase NAIA’s capacity from 30 million to 65 million passengers per year and build an additional taxiway and runway holding areas so planes can queue and depart immediately.

The government awarded the original proponent status (OPS) for the NAIA rehabilitation to Megawide in July, 2020.

However, just five months later, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) revoked the OPS with “no reason given”, according to the proponent.

Megawide appealed the MIAA’s decision, but the government denied its motion for reconsideration last year.

Now, “What was initially touted as a flagship project with the private sector has been reduced to a publicly-funded small-scale endeavor in the end,” Ridon maintained.

“The new government should undo this blunder and restart rehabilitation of the country’s main international gateway,” he argued.

“Duterte’s government blew both chances for very flimsy reasons. A new government with a fresh mandate should not allow this to happen again.”

Add to that, a number of the past administration’s projects, such as the DOTr and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s P1 Billion Bayanihan Bike Lane Networks, were duds, according to transport groups.

The project sought to promote active transportation in the country, via 497 kilometers (kms) of pavement markings, physical separators and road signages in the National Capital Region, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao.

However, the project failed to take off because Filipinos, unlike Europeans, are not inclined to use bikes as an alternative means of commuting.

“The bike lanes were underutilized and just worsened the traffic problem,” according to motorists.

Because transport groups felt the Duterte administration failed to address their issues, they wanted “someone from the transport industry” to take the reins of the DOTr.

Indeed, Marcos chose someone from the industry – aviation, in particular.

He appointed Jaime Bautista, who was at the helm of Philippine Airlines (PAL) for 13 of his 26 years in the flagship carrier, as his DOTr Secretary.