Are they building yet?
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 19, 2017 - 12:00am

I stayed in town during the Holy Week break and enjoyed a relatively less congested metropolis. The Holy Week population of Metro Manila may just be its maximum carrying capacity. I encountered traffic jams along C-5 and EDSA, but only because they seem to be repairing a lane in both major roadways.

I only wondered why they were breaking up portions that seemed okay but not that section (around the Greenmeadows area, for example, which Manila Water never properly restored) that is not comfortable to drive on. But that’s DPWH for you.

Also during the Holy Week, a stock market analyst noted the booming car industry. “Car sales jump 32.9 percent in March. Data from Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) and Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) showed car sales improved 32.9 percent YoY to 36,561 units in March.

“This was largely driven by strong volume sales of commercial vehicles, which surged 52.8 percent to 24,708 units. Passenger vehicle sales recorded modest growth of 4.5 percent to 11,853 units. Overall, 1Q17 car sales remained robust, registering a 23 percent YoY increase or an equivalent of 94,026 units sold.

 “Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) still dominates CAMPI members with 43.3 percent market share. Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp trails with 17.6 percent market share followed by Ford Motor Philippines, Inc. (8.3 percent market share), Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. (7.82 percent) and Isuzu Philippines Corp (6.9 percent).

“Meanwhile, BusinessWorld quoted the CAMPI president as saying that the industry (including the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors) is expected to hit a sales target of 440-450k units in 2017. This represents ~10-13 percent YoY growth from nearly 400k units sold in 2016, and more modest than the 24 percent growth posted last year.”

Okay, maybe the bullish car sales is due to consumer anticipation of an increase in taxes once the tax reform proposal of the Department of Finance is approved by Congress. But even without the tax threat, car sales would have also been very upbeat.

Cheap and easy credit is one reason for increased sales. The other is that people feel they have to take care of themselves and not depend on government to help them commute. There is a very obvious lack of government activity to improve mass transport as well as to decongest Metro Manila. Indeed, DOTr seems to have gone on what I call the “Abaya mode”.

The DOTr, under Mr. Tugade, is as reluctant to make decisions to move forward like the DOTC under the hopeless Mr. Abaya. That explains why we are still seeing nothing that will reduce our daily pain of commuting. 

DOTr had a press release showing Mr. Tugade inspecting the Mactan International Airport. The press release said he is making sure the project would be delivered on time.

I think Mr. Tagade wasted his time. Megawide can be depended upon to deliver on or even before planned completion date. It is to their economic interest to do so. 

Mactan will deliver over half of Megawide’s income once they get the new terminal going. It got delayed because of a DOTC failure (under Abaya) to inform the Air Force to move out so the new terminal construction could begin.

It would have been better use of Mr Tugade’s time to personally see to it that all the papers he needs to make a decision on Clark and NAIA gets to his table soonest. The time to get Clark up to international standards is now. And there are private parties willing to do all the studies and spend for Clark’s modernization. They only need Mr Tugade to say “go ahead”.

As for NAIA, Mr Tugade shelved the already NEDA approved privatization of NAIA operations that would include introducing some improvements that would address airport congestion. But he has not explained what better plans he has to get the job done.

It isn’t just Mr Tugade. The DPWH has little to show by way of significant projects to alleviate traffic in Metro Manila. All we hear from the young Mr Mark Villar are plans to build half a dozen or so bridges across the Pasig River. For now, we will be happy to see even a couple of those bridges.

I remember there were bold plans in the month before they took office about putting up all those bridges… even temporary pontoon bridges to improve traffic flow. They even inspected those steel bridges rusting away in some DPWH bodega since the Arroyo administration’s “bridges program” ended after a corruption stink.

I imagine that Babes Singson had already done most of the studies and even the paper work for at least two of those bridges. Mr Villar is just supposed to implement. But the question is, when? And “when” cannot come soon enough.

Dindo Manhit of the Albert del Rosario Institute wrote an article for this newspaper before the Holy Week that nothing is happening. It isn’t for lack of money.

Dindo observed: “Despite posting some of Asia’s highest rates of economic growth, the Philippines only ranked 95th in Infrastructure in the 2016 Global Competitiveness Report. For a long time, underinvestment in infrastructure could be explained by the lack of fiscal space. Yet, even under better fiscal conditions, the previous government was beset with underspending.”

It seems the Duterte administration is not going to be any better than the previous Aquino administration. Indeed, the question asked by Dr Epictetus Patalinhug in a study he prepared for ADRI is simple: “How will the Duterte administration address the lingering technical deficit in the project planning, implementing and monitoring agencies?”

Until they are able to adequately answer that question, treat everything we hear from DOTr and DPWH with a grain of salt. I was told by DOTr’s Mr Tugade nine months ago that he would make big decisions on implementation of various projects by the end of the first quarter of 2017. That deadline was over two weeks ago and we have heard nothing… absolutely nothing…

The only decision Mr. Tugade has done was to reverse projects already approved by NEDA and were ready for public bidding… for example, the unbundling of the OandM for five domestic airports and shelving the privatization and modernization of NAIA operations.

On the MRT-3, the new train cars Abaya imported from China have been here for a few months now, but it seems they cannot be used any time soon. Yet, the DOTr usec who used to run MRT 3 wants to pay the Chinese supplier already.

And not to forget, you still can’t get your driver’s license card when you renew your license. They collect for car stickers when you register your car, but have not been issuing stickers for three years now. But you don’t get reimbursed. Where is the money going? 

Car license plates? It is still do-it-yourself, a year into the Duterte watch. These are Aquino era problems, but after nine months there is no hint Duterte’s transport officials will get started soon.

 They promised change but things remain the same. In the words of my grandson who badger us during long road trips: are we there yet? 

To Mr. Tugade and Mr. Villar: Kelan ba talaga kayo magsisimula?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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