700 days and counting

Five down, one to go. With less than 700 days in his presidency, President Pnoy's latest SONA still managed to promise a lot by way of infrastructure. At this crucial juncture, it seems imperative to him that his legacy as the PPP or Infrastructure President not fade into oblivion, or worse, be put on hold because of another top-to-bottom review cum witch-hunt by the incoming president in 2016. At least his intentions are laudable as he plants the seed that will germinate to the benefit of his 2016 anointed one, whether that anointed one wins the election.

Sincerity still counts

Even if he won't be sitting president when many of these infra projects and PPPs come to fruition, he can still influence their outcome and more importantly, their take-off, just as he moved the boundaries of Executive powers/privilege as per his understanding of the Constitution. Whether he personally benefitted or not, his sincerity in making up for lost time is evident.

His seal of good housekeeping

He could do no better than to really do his homework and pay attention to the possibly problematic details this early, so that while he still has the power in the coming waning days, he can push the projects along to his liking. In pursuit of branding, projects he starts should possess his unmistakable mark of the 'Daang Matuwid' seal of good housekeeping.

C-6 and LLED

He thus cited two major infra projects: The C-6 Metro Manila Expressway, which he described as another alternative to EDSA. And the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, a 12.5-meter high dike and an expressway elevated 15 meters above Laguna de Bay's waters. Not only will this enhance the lakeshore for tourism, it would also diminish the seasonal flooding that hits the lakeshore and Pasig River.

The route

The C-6 circumferential road project, strictly speaking, is composed of Phase 1, the Southeast Metro Manila Expressway and Phase 2, the East Metro Manila Expressway. Belonging to the Citra Metro Manila Skyway franchise, it is a.k.a. Skyway Stage 4. Phase 1 is 34km 3x3 lane dual carriageway that starts at Skyway FTI, towards C5/Diego Silang, then banking towards Laguna de Bay via Taguig, crossing Ortigas Extension at Tikling intersection in mid-Antipolo City, then crossing Marcos Highway and terminating at the Batasan complex via Tumana. Phase 2 of Skyway Stage 4 is 24kms total from San Mateo through Montalban, both in Rizal province, terminating in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. It also includes spur expressways from Batasan to NLEx-Luzon Ave. and Skway at Lower Bicutan. Possible extensions are from San Jose del Monte to the Philippine Arena by NLEx and the Bicutan segment of the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike. DPWH has already done some work on C-6 within Taguig.

Off shore causeway

The Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike on the other hand is one of the biggest PPP projects up for grabs this year. This project replaces a hodge-podge of Laguna lakeshore infra projects that include dredging, building dikes, reclaiming parts of the shore for new commercial districts and the like. The dike and elevated expressway is to be built over the water 500m away from the lake shore's edge, beginning in Bicutan, heading south to Calamba and on to Los Banos/Bay. The 65B cost for the LLED includes16 floodgates. Another 58B will be needed to reclaim 700ha. from the shores of Taguig to Muntinglupa, create/develop 7 islands and dig a wide channel separating the lakeshore from the reclaimed land.

Other linkages

These 2 projects also have linkages with existing and proposed road projects. The C-6 Metro expressway links not only to the Skyway, but also to the proposed South Bus Terminal in the former FTI, the Cavitex-C5 link and the Merville Skyway on its southernmost end. Farther, at its northern end, it should have a link to the North Luzon East Expressway and LRT-7, both of which are being pursued by San Miguel. Finally, an extension to the Philippine Arena on the NLEx should be a natural link.

Package deal

The northern end of the Laguna Lakeshore expressway dike should link with the Skyway in Bicutan. Somewhere in the middle, it should connect to a spur expressway from the Mamplasan/SLEx end of the CaLaX and also a link with the SLEx at Calamba. Thus to ensure the success and effectivity of these 2 projects, the integration and approval of several other related and unstarted projects should also be acted on this early, lest we end up with a disjointed network of roads that would have little effect in systemically integrating traffic flow.

Opposition from informal settlers

The Laguna Lakeshore expressway dike will definitely have to face the opposition of organized stakeholders of Laguna Lake; namely PAMALAKAYA and SLLM [Save Laguna Lake Movement]. Depending on who is doing the counting, these two organizations represent anywhere between 300,000 to 3.9 million people. Its a mix of informal settlers and fisherfolk whose livelihoods depend on the lake and somehow entrenched for over several generations, or so they claim. These folk should realize that the degraded nature of the lake can no longer sustain their traditional livelihoods. Rather than giving them dole-outs, drastic change in the way the live and where they live is paramount. Needless to say, a good number of these people are repeat victims of the annual flooding that besets this Lake as five decades of neglect and abuse has turned into a shallow cesspool, a severe toxic danger for the 20 million or so who live in the Metro and Calabarzon area.

Swiss challenge

Time should not be wasted by pushing the C-6 Metro Manila expressway now, lest it fall victim to a fate like the approved but unimplemented SCTEX O&M contract to Metro Pacific Tollways. Being integral to the Skyway franchise of Citra, C-6 should not be subject to any Swiss Challenge, which, unfortunately, is the threat Metro Pacific tollway faces in the SCTEx O&M contract.

No word of honor?

But the biggest hurdle to these projects being implemented in time with, of course, the Pnoy signature 'Daang Matuwid' trademark, is, unfortunately, an 'own goal' for the this Administration. Perhaps in appealing to populist pressure, this Administration has been unilaterally ignoring price adjustment obligations in awarded utilities and tollway contracts. Witness Meralco, Manila Water and Maynilad's fates about these unfulfilled obligations, forcing them to seek International Court arbitration.

The TRB's dillemma

The same applies to toll hikes on all the nation's privately financed and operated tollroads, save for Kennon Road as TRB [Toll Regulatory Board] has frozen several toll rate adjustments for the past 4 years. Ironically, TRB is the same agency that will approve any of the new projects [C-5 Cavitex link, the Mervile interchange, the NLEEx and the Calamba-Los Banos/Bay Expressway, etc. ] that integrate to the Lakeshore and C-6 expressways. Moreover, road right of way acquisition for on-going projects like the NLEx segment 8.2 link from Mindanao Ave. through Luzon Ave. to Katipunan should be expedited to allow linkage to section 3 segment 2 of C-6 Phase 2 of the Skyway Stage 4 at Batasan.

Higher cost to recover; hike the toll fees

Relative to this, former SGV chief, David Balangue, opined that with the huge PPP premiums the government is receiving - PhP11-B on top of the PhP35-B for CALAx, PhP10-B over the PhP15.5-B for NAIA expressway and so on - the project proponent may need to charge higher tolls to recover this premium. If the TRB hews to the anti-increase populist cry and stonewalls on the country's contractual obligations- said toll fee increases- then it will drive away any investor interest in future PPP's or force current big bidders to reconsider.

Perpetuate the legacy by word of honor

This early the president should already push for the approval of the other related/integrated projects and more importantly, impress on the public that reneging on contractual obligations is as dead as the DAP and PDAF. That would be the best way to honor and perpetuate his trademark 'Daang Matuwid' seal of good housekeeping and hence, a lasting legacy.