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Weather, profitability, poor technology worsen jams at local ports

Weather, profitability, poor technology worsen jams at local ports
March 24, 2021

The current logjam in the Port of Matnog in Sorsogon and in the Port of Allen in Northern Samar, with queues of cars and trucks stretched as far as 20 kilometers, is a serious economic issue with urban and regional planning ramifications. However, such long queues did not happen before the March 2020 lockdown, except when typhoons struck this part of the country.

To resolve this issue, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) initiated an inter-agency meeting and heard some reasons for the problem, namely: 1) harsh sea condition; 2) shortage of vessels servicing the route; and 3) scalpers involved in the queuing of trucks outside port premises, which is under the jurisdiction of the Philippine National Police.

On the first issue, the DOTr directed the Philippine Ports Authority to open an additional two ramps, from the current six to eight, by April 2021. The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) will also review the schedule and number of trips per vessel as provided under the certificate of public convenience (CPC), while the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) was directed to supervise the loading/unloading of cargoes, and ensure enforcement of CPC in accordance with time. However, the inter-agency meeting failed to realize that the primary cause of delays is weather and the corresponding rough seas. This is a safety-of-life-at-sea (Solas) issue, and no government policy can demand or force a ship captain to travel when the safety of life and property is at risk due to rough sea conditions.

On the second issue, there are only eight vessels currently servicing the route; under normal conditions, 12 vessels operate the Matnog-Allen route. During the meeting, Marina was directed to advise shipping companies to increase their frequency of trips and replace dry-docked vessels to ensure the stable operations of the route. However, this is basically a supply and demand issue, and no amount of Marina policy can force the ship operator to deploy more ships if the route is not profitable. Regular truckers can also be choosy, since some shipping companies are relatively cheaper than others.

In fairness to the PNP and PCG personnel, they have been very helpful to passengers and truckers alike. But the best they can do is manage the queuing to ensure that nobody cuts the line, except those who have purchased tickets in advance. These frequent travelers have contacts with local scalpers and normally purchase tickets and process travel documents well ahead of their arrival. We can’t blame them—that should be the case to avoid long queues, and technology should be able to level the playing field by encouraging advance online booking and payment systems, just like how airlines operate.

Data would show that the normal users of the Matnog-Allen ports are small cars traveling to Samar-Leyte and, occasionally, truckers to the Surigao and Davao areas. A simple lesson on logistics: The cheapest and safest way to transport goods to Visayas and Mindanao is via containerized vans using ships, and not through long haul land-based trucking services. Therefore, if the normal domestic shipping schedule from the Port of Manila will resume, the long queues in the ports of Matnog and Allen will be resolved. So the solution is not what was offered by the DOTr and that inter-agency meeting; the solution is to resume immediately the normal domestic shipping schedule from the Port of Manila to Cebu/CDO/Zamboanga and vice versa, and thereby restart economic activity in this sector. By the way, the Port of Cebu already resumed normal domestic port operations to Visayas and Mindanao a few days back.

Urban Plan Implementation
University of the Philippines
[email protected]