Infrastructure development opportunities missed

Infrastructure development opportunities missed  image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted September 11, 2013 21:15

Running out of time

Will the current administration's legacy be rememebered in history as the most promising?

Bailey to the rescue

It was tragic news. Our country's most scenic dual carriageway tollway lost a 2 meter chunk of a viaduct to typhoon Maring's rampaging waters on the Pasig-Potrero river. A Bailey bridge, after installation, will provide temporary contiguous passage on the Clark-Subic SCTEx segment terminating the temporary diversion that snakes through Clark South, Friendship Highway, Manibaug and Porac.

Since 1991

The Pasig Potrero viaduct was one of the more scenic segments of SCTEx, slicing through a landscape that was created by the '91 Pinatubo eruption and close to a decade of landscaping and re-landscaping courtesy of Pinatubo's lahar and pyroclastic flows.

Shifting waters

With the shift of the path of the Pasig Potrero river, it would seem that Nature's work isn't over. This time, huge amounts of rainfall cascaded from lake Pinatubo's mountain lair, carving out and displacing ten hectares of Pasig-Potrero's river banks and redirecting river flow smack into the earth fill embankments of the SCTEx viaduct.

If only they signed it

To be fair, BCDA, the owners of the SCTEx and Metro Pacific tollways, operators of the toll expressway, already had plans to convert the earth fill approaches of the viaduct to regular bridge spans on columns. Alas, the passing GMA administration, in 2009/2010, did not act on Metro Pacific's MNTC (Manila North Tollways) contract to invest and run SCTEx, integrate it to NLEx and SFEx a.k.a. Tipo expwy and pay the interest of the BCDA's loan to JIBC. The new Aquino administration cancelled the long term contract, then renegotiated/held out for another 3 years (and counting), trying to squeeze out better terms for the O&M contract. One can only sigh and suppose that if the SCTEx contract was approved on sched, we wouldn't be dealing with this bridge cut off.

Disaster for time trials

This tragedy not only slows down the Clark-Subic commute, but also reduces toll revenue income, an income stream that is vital for the servicing of the JIBC loan that built it. But the TRB has not, for 2 years and counting, acted on the long delayed increase in toll fee. Pending Palace approval of the long term Metro Pac MNTC contract, it would take another 6 months, at least, for the Pasig Potrero viaduct approach to be reconfigured into bridge spans.

Tapping the lake

Nature's recent landscaping proves that there must be a huge body of impounded water upstream of Pasig-Potrero, a body of water that can be dammed (at the risk of being damned by dam-hating Environmental activists) for hydro electric power, irrigation and probably, another scenic mountain view of the lake. Or why not a Zambales mountain range expressway, like the trans Cebu and Negros mountain highway, in order to reach the Zambales coast, south of Iba. Another opportunity to forest the slopes with umbrella pine, to rival Baguio. Another opportunity to prevent canny mining concessionaires from strip mining Zambales by stealth. The possibilities are endless.

Pessimism rules

But even as such opportunities, even born from tragedy, present themselves, we are not optimistic. Inasmuch as government is trying to woo domestic and/or foreign investment in infra, some of the key arms and departments of government have other priorities.

Government disco-ordination

Take the DoTC. Its press office is too busy cutting and pasting press release templates announcing delays and postponements of road, rail and airport projects on account of endless reviewing and counter reviewing the terms of contracts up for bidding. The PPP or Public Private Partnership for BOT projects, on the other hand, is mired with minimal investor appetite due to conditions that lop sidedly favor government at the cost of asphyxiating commercial viability. The contracts seems to be orchestrated by deal maker wannabes that never heard of 'win-win' or misconstrue the meaning of partnership as squeezing the partner to maximize one's advantage. Proof of this is the stasis and meager fruit of takers for the past three years of peddling and road showing. Then there's the TRB which is taking a long time to fulfill contract obligations that require it to implement overdue toll fee hikes on all of the nation's handful of privately run toll roads, thereby, ironically increasing the amount of toll charge increase to balloon for so long as approval is suspended.

Quick, before QE ends

We won't reprise the backlog of infra projects that are begging to be acted on. Not even the ones, like the NLEx-connector and Skyway stage 3 that have been bandied about as this administration's legacy. Nor the advantages of attracting ODA funds now just before the downside effects of winding down QE or quantitative easing next year further reduces investor interest.

Pursuing the ideal

Just as the opportunities to beckon investor interest back in 2010 seemed endless, the opportunities for missed opportunities are just as endless if the obsessive and uncompromising pursuit of the perfect one-sided deal, the perfect air tight contract, the avoidance of one's obligation to obey what is agreed to by contract and the search of that 'ideal' investor willing to throw good money for a project clearly identified as commercially unviable, continues.

Just do it

But there is hope. And it mostly lies in the teflon presidency of Pnoy. Come Habagat high water, pork barrel and maybe even hell, his ratings are impregnably high. And along with it, whether sanely or not, business optimism. Despite the missteps, neglect, failures and misdirection of some of his team and party mates. No doubt his faltering team mates are well meaning and well intentioned, but it comes at a great cost: the loss of opportunity and momentum to keep infrastructure growth on a rolling boil. It will need to take the President himself, back stopped by his popularity, to take a hands-on approach and get these projects moving and fast. He's got less than 3 years to do it, but it will take no less than him who would have to take charge.