President Benigno Aquino III, in his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, highlighted several of his administration’s projects aimed at making transportation efficient.
Aquino cited the “steady stream of good news” from the country’s aviation sector starting in 2013 when the International Civil Aviation Organization lifted some safety concerns imposed on the country.
Aquino noted that the European Union allowed flag carrier Philippine Airlines to resume its flights to Europe in 2013, and gave the same approval to Cebu Pacific Air the following year. Also in 2013, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration upgraded the country’s status to Category 1 after downgrading it to Category 2 in 2008.
“Because of these developments, incoming and outgoing flights are increasing, and it is also becoming easier for tourists to fly around the Philippines,” Aquino said.
“Even better news: just this June, the EU Air Safety Committee removed its ban on all our air carriers—the first time that it has lifted its ban on the entire civil aviation sector of a country,” he added, noting that all local airlines are now able to fly directly to EU countries.
As for the maritime sector, the President said the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) “went to work quickly in order to match our maritime education certificates to global standards” as there was a threat the EU would no longer recognize the country’s maritime education certificates since the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been questioning since 2006 the country’s compliance with the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).
“If we did not act, there would have been the chance that an estimated 80,000 Filipino seafarers working on European boats would be out of jobs,” Aquino pointed out.
“To this day, the EU continues to recognize our certifications. Come EMSA’s next audit, which will begin in October, Marina guarantees: We will definitely pass.”
At the same time, the President mentioned the slew of transport infrastructure projects awarded through the government’s public-private partnership (PPP) program. This includes the Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX), opened just last week and was the first PPP project awarded during his term.
The first two stages of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) are also now operational, he said, as is Phase 2 of the STAR Toll.
He noted that when the Cavite-Laguna Expressway Project, C-6 Phase 1, Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, and NLEX-SLEX Connector Road are completed, “all the more will the benefits of our infrastructure strategy reach even more people.”
Aquino said that under his watch, the number of solicited PPP projects has reached 50, of which 10 have been awarded, 13 are being bid out, and 27 are still in the pipeline. In contrast, only six PPPs were awarded by the past three administrations, he said.
He added, “Back then, no one would join these projects; now, private companies are competing with one another, and are even paying us premiums.”
The President revealed the country has received P64.1 billion in premiums, which goes directly to national coffers. “Each successful project redounds to even greater confidence in the Philippines, which will in itself help accelerate the process of putting up the rest of the infrastructure we need,” Aquino said.
As for infrastructure undertakings about to be constructed, Aquino said his “sole request is for all of us to calm down.
“The procurement process is long; in fact, four months to complete the process is already considered fast. You could be considered lucky if the computer you ordered is delivered within that time. Just imagine the process when it comes to the construction of bridges.”
Finally, Aquino thanked lawmakers for passing “meaningful laws” such as the Philippine Competition Law, the Act Allowing the Full Entry of Foreign Banks, Foreign Ships Co-Loading Act, Sin Tax Reform Act, and Responsible Parenthood Act.
The passage of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), supposedly a priority bill of the administration and one of the logistics industry’s most requested legislation, did not warrant a mention at the SONA.
Neither was there a mention of any other projects for the cargo transportation industry, which last year was wracked by massive port congestion caused by Manila’s daytime truck ban.
Congress leaders assure CMTA OK
Both houses of Congress, however, vowed to approve the CMTA before their term ends next year.
Senate president Franklin Drilon, in a statement on July 27 at the joint opening of the 3rd Regular Session of the 16th Congress, said the Upper House will push for passage of the CMTA, as well as the Tax Incentives Monitoring and Transparency Act (TIMTA), “to enhance trade and commerce and further transform our country into a more lucrative venue for foreign investments.”
Drilon noted the bills are in the advanced stage of legislation.
The CMTA is also one of the priority bills that will be approved by the Lower House before it ends its term in June 2016, according to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.
Representative Romero Quimbo, who heads the Lower House’s Committee on Ways and Means, said the bill will create a “paradigm shift” in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), changing its orientation from being a collector of revenue to what it should be—a “facilitation agent.”
Quimbo said that with the CMTA, BOC’s main mandate will be to facilitate trade, followed by guarding the country’s borders against prohibited or contraband goods, with collecting revenue only coming in third.
Different business groups and port stakeholders, as well as BOC, have been pushing for the enactment into law of the CMTA. The task of modernizing the country’s Tariff and Customs Code, which was last amended in 1987, has been ongoing in Congress for the past 19 years.
Aside from CMTA and TIMTA, other measures on the priority list of the two houses of Congress are the timely enactment of the 2016 General Appropriations Act and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, modernization of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, and passage of the prepaid SIM card registration act, among others.
The Senate has 16 urgent measures and the Lower House 17 priority bills for enactment in its third and last session. – Roumina Pablo