Wake Up, Philippines!

Modernization of North Harbor overdue

Posted in Maritime, Modernization, Transportation by Erineus on March 6, 2009

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:49:00 03/05/2009

The lone bid in the P10-billion, 25-year North Harbor modernization project will be opened by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) this month. The lone bidder is a joint venture of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and Harbour Center Port Terminal (HCPT).

The other bidders were disqualified due to deficiencies in the requirements. And this prompted workers’ unions in the waterfront to buy full-page advertisements in three newspapers claiming that the project was going through “the classic bid-rigging formula, where the Terms of Reference and Contract of the project have practically been tailor-fitted to match the whims and caprices of the winning bidder and is obviously disadvantageous to the government.” The winning bidder has answered all the allegations made in those advertisements.

What I can say is that the modernization of the World War I North Harbor is long overdue. Not many people have gone through there (these are the piers where inter-island vessels from the provinces dock) but for those who have, it is a horrifying experience. It is a stinky, decrepit port devoid of any semblance or benefit of the modern age. It is the perfect picture of a Third World country: you find everything that is trash and find nothing pleasant and worth remembering.

Vendors hawking all sorts of merchandise everywhere; con-artists trying to trick the poor “probinsyano” [provincial] into parting with his hard-earned money; stevedores fighting to carry the cargo of the passengers; confused passengers; chaotic traffic; even more chaotic cargo handling; dilapidated buildings; garbage strewn everywhere; pickpockets and unruly taxi drivers galore; generally a system of utter chaos; its underwater structures deteriorating at an alarming rate — this is North Harbor.

North Harbor used to be the crown jewel of the Philippine transport industry. Not anymore. It is now an example of everything that is wrong in a waterfront. It suffers in comparison even with other ports in the country, like Port of Batangas, where one can marvel at the modern equipment.

It is in this context that the PPA crafted plans on how to convert North Harbor into a sprawling world-class facility and to regain its old glory as the gateway to the country’s major seaports.

The modernization project will boost inter-island shipping and improve the economy. The harbor will be dredged to accommodate bigger ships. The port will be fitted with modern cranes and a bigger and wider container depot to accommodate more container vans coming from the provinces.

Mulcting drivers will no longer be around as the proponent included in the project the fielding of modern buses to collect passengers from the port to their destinations anywhere in Metro Manila.

The government will earn P6.8 billion in 25 years. On the first year of operation, the PPA will earn P160 million, more as the years go by, on top of other fees to be collected.

Phase 1 of the project will be implemented over a period of six years. First off, the two-lane piers will be widened. During the first year, the crane rail for two LO-LO (load on, load off) births at Terminal 1 and concreting of container yards will be completed. After the LO-LO berths, the operator will procure two shore cranes and support equipment.

The other components of Phase 1, such as reclamation, construction of the PTB, construction of additional LO-LO and RO-RO (roll on, roll off) berths, including the development of an information technology (IT) system, will be completed within three years from the start of the contract.

Phase 2 will cover the development of Terminals 2 and 3 and the second Passenger Terminal building at Slip 5, which will be constructed within three years after the completion of Phase 1.

The project is economically feasible and will not be disadvantageous to the government as alleged by some quarters.

First, the modernization of North Harbor to a world-class port will be done without the government spending a single centavo. The PPA will be guaranteed a fixed fee of P6.8 billion for 25 years regardless of economic conditions. The PPA will retain collection of fees for usage, wharfage and anchorage, among others.

Second, the winning bidder will reimburse the PPA P15 million as consultant’s success fee within 10 days from signing of the contract. The bidder will reimburse the PPA for past service benefits advanced by the PPA in the total amount of P113 million.

Third, the main criterion for award of the contract is lowest tariff, meaning reduced fees for the port user.

And fourth, upon expiration of the contract, all improvements, structures, buildings and facilities will belong to the PPA.

The project will retain the government’s sovereign power to levy tariff. During the 25 years of the contract, the government will continue to levy port charges, such as usage fees and wharfage charges. It will continue to approve the rates on cargo-handling charges similar to contracts on the South Harbor and the Manila International Container Terminal.

And it is the PPA, and not the winning bidder, who will be responsible for the removal of the squatters within North Harbor.

In concrete terms, modernization will bring world-class facilities and services to North Harbor; seamless domestic trade connections to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; service reliability and safe operations; tightened security to eliminate crime; sustained employment to 5,000 direct and 20,000 indirect workers within and without the area.

* * *

Kapihan notes: Among the guests at this Monday’s Kapihan sa Manila media forum will be Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who is currently in the hot seat and against whom an impeachment case has been filed.