Home » Opinion, The Export Advocate » Move The Ports Out Of Manila

(The Export Advocate debuts in this issue to open another channel for export awareness, promotion and support. Opinions and comments here are based on issue discussions, positions and recommendations and may not directly come from the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc Board and management.

Considered the lynchpin of economic growth, exports generate significant value-added benefits felt even at the grassroots.  It is hoped that advocacies carried by this column will yield positive ripples to the industry and the country as a whole.

Comments may be emailed to advocacy@philexport.ph.)

The idea is not new, according to Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II. It has been done by our richer neighbors some decades back; others only recently.

The Pnoy government has started to explore the possibility of moving the international seaport and airport out of Metro Manila. The new policy direction was floated recently when the Department of Transportation and Communications summoned major Manila seaport stakeholders to look at the viability and speed of moving international cargo from congested ports in Manila to the Batangas and Subic ports.

The Export Development Council Networking Committee on Transportation and Logistics, National Competitiveness Council Infrastructure Committee and the joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines expressed support towards this advocacy.

Also only recently, Secretary Roxas announced that the government has decided to move international air transport from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay to the Macapagal International Airport at the Clark Freeport of Pampanga.

Early on during the discussion to move cargo traffic from Manila to Batangas and Subic, a Philippine Ports Authority official made clear that the Manila port is far from congested. He said business is brisk with over two million TEUs of containerized and non-containerized cargo moving in and out of the facility, and that private port operators are in fact expanding, gearing to increase capacity to over three million TEUs a year.

He was cut short when told that the government was not talking about port congestion, but traffic congestion in the metropolis as a result of the movement of trucks to and from the seaport.

The next question is, are players in the game ready to move out? When their turn to present their side came, Batangas and Subic port operators said that despite billions of pesos in borrowed money spent to modernize the facilities, very few ships actually make calls at the alternative ports. Subic handles a very low five percent of its 600,000 TEU capacity a year, Batangas even lower at below two percent.

Their suggested share of what is considered big business is modest – only cargoes to and from the Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon side of Calabarzon for the Barangas Port, and those for and to Central and Northern Luzon for the Subic Port

There are a few hurdles that need to be overcome including convincing shipping lines to call those ports for cargoes bound to those regions; getting truckers and other support service providers to establish bases close to those ports so their rates can be as competitive as those offered from Manila ports; and putting in place other policies to support port development.

The challenges to moving the international airport from Pasay to Pampanga is a bit harder. The infrastructure facilities for a 21st century premier international airport are still inadequate at Clark. It is not yet ready to play hardball the way Subic and Batangas have been readied to handle cargo vessels.

Clark’s main advantage is it has more than enough space on which to build those structures. Besides, the Manila airport land, the last remaining piece of prime commercial property owned by the government in Metro Manila, when put up on sale for redevelopment could pay for the modernization of the Clark airport. This, Secretary Roxas assures.

By all indications, decongesting Metro Manila from cargo trucks traveling to and from the pier may take no more than two years; transferring the bulk of air traffic from Metro Manila to Pampanga may take a bit longer, maybe five to seven years.

But the bottomline should be increased trade competitiveness as we try to lessen logistics costs and streamline processes. For reforms such as these, we can hardly wait.

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