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Jammed: Arbitrary

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - March 30, 2021



This other story is about shipping as well – although the potential disruption to domestic trade will be entirely induced by the impunity of local potentates.

The Sangguniang Bayan of San Pascual, Masbate passed two resolutions asking the MARINA to cancel the missionary routes of Lucena City-based Starhorse Shipping Lines Inc. (SSLI). The resolutions were reportedly at the urging of San Pascual Mayor Maxim Lazaro and Masbate Governor Antonio Kho.

Vice Mayor Haira Rivera and Secretary Ernani Lazaro authored the resolutions that should by now be with the MARINA. They claim that SSLI failed to operate its ro-ro vessel during the first ECQ (March-June 2020) and then later in December.

The municipal council is not representing things honestly. During the first ECQ, national government suspended operations of passenger vessels. When such operations were allowed to resume, Governor Kho opened all Masbate ports except the one in San Pascual.

As part of the incentive for ro-ro operators to serve missionary routes, they are allowed exclusivity in certain routes while the market is being developed. The incentive is justified by the fact that ship owners are expected to be losing money in the first years of servicing a missionary route. SSLI enjoys exclusivity for the Lucena-San Pascual route.

The exclusivity enjoyed by SSLI over the San Pascual operation apparently does not sit well with Governor Kho and Mayor Lazaro. Both local officials own wooden hulled ships that could profitably operate this particular route.

There are other mysterious circumstances relating to SSLI’s operations at the San Pascual port. In February 2020, SSLI’s ro-ro vessel Virgen Penafrancia VI was attacked with a rifle grenade. The local police unit never got around to solving this crime.

According to Mrs. Merian Reyes, SSLI chief executive, shortly before the attack several persons approached her demanding protection money. She rejected the demand. The grenade attack on the vessel appears to be related to this demand for money. The local police remain clueless.

For months since the attack, the ro-ro operator labored in fear of further atrocities done to dissuade them from continuing the business. Now, the municipal council is openly hostile, asking for their license to be withdrawn.

MARINA ought to look very closely at this case. The entire “nautical highways” system depends on the viability of modern roll-on, roll-off vessels’ missionary routes to stimulate inter-island trading activity and tourism.

Serving these missionary routes is a capital-intensive proposition and the shipping companies are expected to pro-actively spur economic activities on either end of the route to make the business viable. At the very least, MARINA should ensure the security of ro-ro operations and the predictability of the incentives granted shipping companies.

This is the least national government agencies can do to keep the nautical highway system viable. This system is vital to bringing once-stranded island economies to the mainstream of domestic trade. The nautical highways will be the means for new businesses to prosper and incomes to improve in the formerly isolated island communities.

The good things will not happen if local power brokers are allowed to disrupt businesses through the blatant impunity with which they exercise petty power.