The Weather and growth
Noticed the weather lately? The weather cycle in Luzon has had shorter dry seasons since 2006. This has been good for Agricultural production, bumping up 1st quarter GDP growth beyond NEDA targets. But its bad of construction. Winnie Monsod, Cory's NEDA Chieftain, pointed this out as construction barely contributed to the high growth rate this 1st quarter of 2012. But as they say, a quarter does not make a year.
It's not only the weather
The weather is just one of the many difficulties besetting the DPWH as it finds itself trying to catch up with more than a quarter century's worth of infrastructure backlog. Things did not get better for the DPWH ever since mid 2010, when the new administration took over. Pnoy ordered a top to bottom review of many on-going and approved projects from the GMA era. And since the new administration is pushing for the PPP, its tighter and enhanced version of the BOT law, DPWH had to work quadruple time making feasibility studies to attract private investors to help bankroll future infrastructure investment. All this, is on top of an already full plate of programed projects and maintenance that the DPWH does year in and year out.
DPWH has already made public its dream network of interlinked expressways covering Luzon, getting ready for any mega bucks infrastructure conglomerate willing to make a long term bet. It then tickled the public's imagination and alarmed the traffic agencies when it proposed the EDSA Skyway.
To the Metro folks, DPWH's current visible projects, both rehabs and new, are the Buendia flyover, the Araneta-Quezon Ave. underpass, EDSA P-Tuason U-turn, Sales-Nichols interchange, Katipunan-Commonwealth flyover along with the concrete blocking of EDSA during the dry season, a tradition since 1980. It has wisely chosen to go forward with both cross town expressway proposals, Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEx-SLEx connector. Meantime, while the Sales rehabilitation is going on, DPWH will have to resolve that unsafe railroad crossing from the East Service Road to SLEx under the Nichols-Sales Interchange.
Just as vital to infrastructure is the DoTC. This department makes sure that the existing infrastructure delivers in keeping the country's goods and services moving. Former DoTC Sec. Ping de Jesus inherited a long list of projects from his predecessor, Sec. Larry Mendoza, to which he added still more. The long consolidated list includes the TRB approved expressway toll hikes, train fare increases, MRT-LRT loop, LRT 1 extension, LRT 2 extension, LRT 7, train signaling upgrades, additional coaches, upgraded electronic data processing for LTO and LTFRB, the Stradcom mess, North Rail, South Rail, culling of colorum buses, wholesale TESDA retraining of public utility drivers, Motor vehicle inspection regime, new multi character plate numbers, uniform standards for road side smoke belching testing, airport upgrades, navigation equipment rehabilitation, portable and adjustable Ro-ro ports and many more. Much as Sec. Ping de Jesus and his team were tackling all these and germinating new projects, it all came to an abrupt end when Ping and his team resigned.
Mar's world, pre-Korina
Sen. Mar Roxas then took over. Sec. Roxas is no stranger to the workings of Government and government working with the private sector during the pre-Hyatt Ten days during the reign of GMA. At the DTI, Roxas is credited with pulling through the difficult task of taking on the DoF and the BIR in reforming automobile excise taxes, a reform that produced a revival of the auto industry to sales levels unknown after the '97 Asian Financial Crisis. Even before Pres. Aquino took his oath as our 15th president, Mar Roxas already waged war against red tape in the DTI.
As Senator, Mar also pushed for a rather controversial version of the the Generics Drugs Act.
Mar's turf, Mar's style
But ever since Mar took over the DoTC, we've heard little of what happened to the long laundry list of things to do that Ping left behind. Instead, DoTC focused on lending PPP a helping hand, as it should. Nothing wrong with that, but did it have to treat on going projects and proposals sent during the previous administrations as suspect in concept or intent, even if the terms allegedly were? Well and good that DoTC has dumped projects it found disadvantageous to Government but what replaced it? DoTC did not like the terms of the Service Contract for the MRT upgrade but it hasn't prioritized what replaces the Service Contract and the link to LRT-1 either. The squabble with Stradcom hasn't been laid to rest and a rebid for outsourced electronic data processing for the LTO was challenged in court by Amalgamated Motors, Inc. DoTC cancelled the North Rail project at great penalty cost, without an Option B, besides dreamily tossing between a NAIA-DMIA rail link or high speed rail. A pity as North Rail successfully cleared 50 years of squatters on the PNR Rail Right of way. And what about a new navigation and air traffic control system after the Sumitomo/Thales deal was cancelled?
More government borrowing?
Recently, the DoTC declared that LRT 2 extension to Masinag will be undertaken at government's expense/borrowing. We say that government should regulate business but not be in business. Not only does the regulator become an unfair competitor, it tends to make a hash of things, even if it claims government can get good credit terms. Whether DoTC contracts operations and maintenance to private companies, DoTC still has to allow higher train fares to reduce the bleeding of the light rail mass transit system and allow a reasonable rate of return to make it a viable business. Politicians, with their eye on votes, can call low fares consumer friendly, but the rest of the country, who do not benefit from low train fares, unfairly foots the bill.
Delayed toll hike
And what about the toll hikes for STAR and SCTEx? That was due January 2012 but TRB is sitting on it. For SCTEx, the delay in raising toll means less income for BCDA. BCDA was supposed to hand over the operations of the SCTEx to Metro Tollways last year so headaches like paying interest on the loan to JBIC and subsidizing operations from low toll fees or low traffic volumes would not be its problem, but the Palace continues to sit on the long delayed Metro-Tollways takeover of SCTEx.
The French Ro-ro ports?
Whatever happened to the French made modular, adjustable and portable Ro-Ro ports? It was faulted for being too expensive and uses high technology we don't need, but compared to what? Compared to concrete piers which take far longer to build, are not transferable and cannot accommodate the majority of landing craft in changing tides? Its like comparing apples to oranges. If the issue was the French warranty was void because all the areas for installation beside existing concrete ports and new ones were in the open sea, then why not re-bid the project using the upgraded specifications? It doesn't make sense to go back to ancient specifications just because the terms of the cancelled winning French bid were allegedly disadvantageous.
But Mar's DoTC has not been without its achievements. There are lots of airport upgrades up for bidding and they are doing a marvelous job of restoring NAIA 1 to its original Lindy Locsin glory, which should do Mme Imelda R. Marcos proud. The last accomplishment rather burnishes Mar's reputation somewhat so the day work at the DoTC runs him down, he would make a fine Department of Tourism Secretary.
Fired, hospitalized and skewered
In the early days of this Aquino administration, a Weather Bureau chief got fired because a storm diverted from Pag-Asa's forecast position. Surprise, surprise, the weather and Nature have a habit of showing off its supremacy over man. Nature picked a no-contest loser in Pag-Asa because most of its antiquated equipment is beyond repair and whatever is left is obsolete. Later the administration paid no attention to Supreme Court decisions and imprisoned a sick ex-President and sitting congresswoman in a hospital. After that, it proceeded to gouge the Judiciary by skewering the Chief Justice in a demeaning public trial. If only the same determination and “take-no-prisoners” zeal was applied to moving all those projects in limbo, then headlines wouldn't be all about the government being summary and rash judge-jury-executioner to foes. Tough justice, sure, its a legitimate style of governance, but tough luck for most of us too as we strain to see relevant results.