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My colleagues and I have been talking about accomplishments and legacies. In particular, we had a spirited discussion about what we have been doing in terms of transportation projects that we have been involved in. I think everyone wants to have something physical to remember them by. And these should be positive and constructive and not memories of controversies or anomalies like those in major projects that will be associated with corruption or abnormalities in the processes by which the projects were implemented.
The ‘problem’ with being involved in policy making and planning is that these often lead to outputs such as reports and maybe even laws. If one is lucky enough then perhaps its in the form of a legislation rather than a Department Order. But those legislations and memos often do not acknowledge the people who contributed to its drafting. They will be associated with the politicians (e.g., senators and congressmen) and officials (e.g., secretaries, undersecretaries) who sponsored, co-sponsored or issued them. It will be good to have some sort of evidence to show and prove that you were instrumental in planning, designing and/or implementing a project.
The appointment of a new Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary in Art Tugade had me recalling our meeting with him to present the outcomes of our study on a major commercial development at Clark Freeport. He was appreciative of our work and mentioned that Clark had implemented many of the recommendations of the Master Plan we had developed for the Freeport back in 2010. All the major recommendations were implemented during Tugade’s watch at Clark. Following are the most notable ones:
The Mabalacat Gate and Public Transport Terminal of the Clark Free Port Zone
McArthur Highway – M.A. Roxas Highway – First Street rotunda
The lead for these projects was Dr. Ricardo Sigua who is the one of the leading transportation engineers in the Philippines and currently the Director of the Institute of Civil Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is also the head of the Road Safety Research Laboratory of the National Center for Transportation Studies where he is also a Research and Extension Fellow. Others involved in these projects were Dr. Karl Vergel, Dr. Noriel Christopher Tiglao and Dr. Jose Regin Regidor, all from UP Diliman and affiliated with the NCTS.
The camp of President-elect Duterte has been busy the past week trying to determine, among others, who will be secretary of which agency. As far as I am concerned, my interest is in who will be assigned to agencies that have a lot to do about transportation. Thee include the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). DOTC, of course, is the main agency and has under it several front line agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Philippine National Railways (PNR).
So far, what we know is that the DOTC portfolio will be given to Arthur Tugade, the former head of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). Tugade has the confidence of Duterte as they are good friends and were classmates at the San Beda Law School. I’ve met Tugade once when we presented the outcomes and recommendations of a traffic study for a project at the Clark Freeport only a few months ago. The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman has had a productive relationship with Clark from the time the Center came up with a comprehensive transport and traffic master plan for the free port back in 2010. Tugade has been very productive in expanding businesses at Clark and has been quite an astute figure in his dealings with various political leaders in the region especially with respect to the local governments of Angeles City and Mabalacat. I wish him well at DOTC and hopefully, he can harness its much maligned organic staff like what he has done at CDC. There are so many challenges at DOTC including assigning good people at the LTO and LTFRB.
I hope Duterte retains Sec. Rogelio Singson as head of the DPWH . I had made the observation before that the DPWH is only as good as its head and Singson has been an excellent DPWH Secretary, introducing and institutionalizing many reforms to the agency so much so that it has been performing way above expectations and corruption has been curbed in many areas. In terms of e-governance and open data, the DPWH has been a bright spot in the past administration so much so that its performance in implementing infrastructure projects including those convergence programs with other agencies has made the DOTC look really bad.
As for the other agencies, I can’t think of any names yet as I am not very familiar with Duterte’s inner circle but based on what his camp has already announced, there will be people from the administrations of former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo, a throwback perhaps to the once powerful Lakas party than Duterte’s PDP-Laban. I am anxious to know who will be the next NEDA Director General. NEDA has a big role being the agency consolidating infrastructure plans and projects and the convenor of the very influential Infrastructure Committe (InfraCom) that approves projects for implementation. Very interesting, too, would be the appointee to the position of MMDA Chair. The nation’s capital needs a good administrator with an excellent vision for the megalopolis and the skill set to get things done. Hopefully, we will know who these people will be in the next few days.
Our plane approached Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from Manila Bay and so I was able to get a good look at Sangley Point from the air. Sangley Point is currently an Philippine Air Force base although last time I checked some general aviation have been transferred from NAIA to Sangley Point to ease congestion at Manila’s gateway. Recently, Sangley Point has been the subject of much discussions regarding the location of a possible replacement for NAIA. The latter has been experiencing much congestion lately as evident from the frequently delayed flights in and out of the airport, which already has 4 passenger terminals. The assessment is that NAIA won’t be able to handle the steadily growing number of flights, passengers and cargo that it is and would be handling. And so, the conclusion was to determine the location of a new airport that would basically serve the National Capital Region in particular and the rest of the country in general. The last is in reference to NAIA being the prime gateway to the country despite other international airports including Cebu-Mactan and Davao.
There is actually another major airport to the north of Metro Manila in what was formerly a U.S. air base in Pampanga province – Clark. Clark International Airport (also known at one point as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) was once touted to be the Narita to NAIA’s Haneda (an allusion to the two major gateways in the Kanto region of Japan). Plans for Clark included the construction of a modern railway line (the still-born Northrail) that would have connected Metro Manila with Clark. There is already a modern expressway connecting the two in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) that connects Clark with the rest of Central Luzon. The newest tollway in the country, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), has already completed Phase 1 and will ultimately connect Clark with northern Luzon.
Sangley Point is located to the southwest of NAIA in the province of Cavite. Its location is quite strategic being at the mouth of Manila Bay and current developments related to much reclamation work in the coastal cities and towns of Metro Manila and Cavite invites speculation about Sangley Point as a possible site for a future international airport. The examples of Haneda, Kansai and Hong Kong have been mentioned as references or models for Sangley to follow. However, it is not a simple thing considering the need for extensive reclamation in order to have space for a modern airport with multiple runways and passenger terminal(s) that can handle the projected millions of travellers using the airport. There are also environmental concerns here that need to be addressed, which can be evaluated via a comprehensive environmental impact study.
Sangley Point airbase as seen from our landing aircraft
A closer look shows the strip of land that’s pretty much just the runway and a few buildings that serve as terminal and offices.
Whether the proposal for a future international airport at Sangley Point takes off (pun intended) or it is decided that Clark will be the main gateway for what has become a Greater Capital Region (Mega Manila) remains to be seen. There is actually a couple of other proposals put forward before including a site in Bulacan (north of Metro Manila) and at Laguna de Bay (south of Metro Manila). These proposals have basically faded in discussions and only Clark and Sangley Point remain in active consideration. Clark is already there and has a master plan with 3 runways and a huge passenger terminal while Sangley is still basically a concept for the transformation of a small air base and with lots of uncertainties/risks involved especially in implementation. Perhaps what will be for Clark’s advantage and the tipping point is the Bases Conversion and Development Authority’s (BCDA) proposal for a Clark Green City located nearby. The success of this new city is seen partly to be anchored on Clark becoming the main gateway and in tandem with NAIA. In my opinion, this can and would work (and would likely be more cost effective) if the government commits itself to Clark and the required infrastructure to support the airport. This can also help decongesting Metro Manila with a major development in Clark Green City, which is already in the works in as far as BCDA is concerned. As for Sangley, perhaps the question is not whether we can do another Haneda but if we can do it right and within a reasonable time frame given the complexity of the task at hand.