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Delay of the land

Early this year, with about half of his six-year term over, our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS) perhaps thought it was time he did some serious moves to ease our suffering called horrible traffic.

He therefore set his eyes on the construction of the skyway linking the Slex and Nlex, the so-called Metro Manila Skyway project, calling upon his boys to get their minds together to complete it before he would step down in 2016.

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The project serves as the bypass expressway for all major thoroughfares in the metropolis, including the awfully congested Edsa.

In January, our leader, BS, authorized the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) to do take the lead in finalizing the so-called STOA, or the agreement between the government and the proponent of the project.

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That was the Citra-PNCC combine, operator of the Slex, which invited the country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp., into the bypass project, apparently to add some clout to the group.

Made up of the different executive departments, including the Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras, the TRB board wasted no time in crafting, reviewing and, consequently, approving the STOA.

The economic cluster in the Cabinet of the Aquino (Part II) administration did a thorough scrutiny of the STOA, then forwarded it to our leader, BS, who did all of their recommendations, including the issuance of orders to iron out some legal kinks.

In other words, our man was dead serious on this one!

After all, the guys down here suffer the most from the unbearable traffic, keeping them in their commute for at least four hours a day, just to be able to go to work, and so what quality of life do they have?

According to a study done by the World Bank on the terrible 15-kph crawling traffic of Edsa, for instance, three out of four commuters belong to the lower-income groups in the country.

One estimate puts the cost of traffic to the economy at more than P100 billion a year, which all of us must bear, including business, rich and poor alike.

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It is just that, in going full throttle on the traffic-relieving new skyway project, our leader, BS, perhaps has in mind those poor wage earners, the low-income groups, who account for some 75 percent of the commuting trips in Metro Manila.

Besides, the world has already taken note of our poor infrastructure, such as our poor showing in the infra portion of the Global Competitiveness Index, as measured by the Swiss group World Economic Forum, which put the Philippines in terms of infra in the 124th place out of about 140 countries.

And here we are already tapping ourselves on the shoulders for the economic growth rate of more than 7 percent, knowing fully well that the economic “overheat” would happen if we could not address the problem of poor infrastructure.

Anyway, the skyway bypass project already seemed to be a “go” for the administration, as the project timeline showed that, after the approval of the TRB-recommended STOA, full construction should start in May—or last month.

That way, after two and a half years of digging and building, not to mention bad traffic that we must bear all around, the project would be done by December 2015—just in time to be inaugurated by our leader BS.

We are already in June 2013, how come there is no construction activity yet on the supposed route of the project? Well, from what I gathered, although it was a “go” as far as the Economic Cluster is concerned, two departments were still hairsplitting some issues.

They remained—not surprisingly —DPWH and DOF, which were insisting on some legal issues that everybody in the TRB Cabinet-level board thought the legal offices in the government such as the OGCC and the DOJ already resolved.

From what I gathered, the DOF and the DPWH flooded our leader, BS, with memos on those legal issues, delaying the implementation of this critical infrastructure project.

Those two departments by themselves already put a monkey wrench on the whole project that was supposed to be part of our salvation from the horrendous traffic that we must suffer every day—and even night—through their worst delaying tactics ever in this land.

The DOF, for instance, wrote a memo to the DOTC, which was the main man in the TRB board, to demand that certain provisions be put in the STOA as a last-minute insertion.

Yet the TRB board has been saying all along that various legal opinions of the OGCC and the DOJ already covered all those supposed “concerns” of the DOF. Basta—the DOF wanted them to be issues again!

Look, one of the issues espoused by the DOF was that PNCC (Philippine National Construction Corp., the original operator of both Nlex and Slex) must be out of the new connector skyway project. Hmmm.

Here is the thing: It was  PNCC that, during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos, obtained the martial rule-era presidential decrees giving PNCC the right to build the road linkage between the two expressways.

Yes—in other words, PNCC holds the legal aces! The DOF wanted it out of the picture. In heaven’s name, why?

It did not matter to the DOF that, with PNCC out of the picture, the whole damn thing would flood with legal and business complications. In this country, legal complications would always be an advantage to any challenger to the proponent of any project.

Really, without the legal aces of PNCC, as the DOF wanted, any Tom, Dick or Harry named Manny could easily question the right of the Citra combine over the skyway linkage project.

Question: Who could that competitor be now?

As for the DPWH, headed by Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson, who used to be the top honcho in Maynilad Water, which belongs to the MVP group of companies under Metro Pacific, it wanted to force Citra to sign an agreement with—what else—the MPIC.

That was none other than the Metro Pacific Infrastructure Corp. So there. For the DPWH, based on its series of memos to our leader BS, nothing doing with the STOA before the Citra group would give in to DPWH regarding the MPIC issue!

As we all know, as a competition to the Citra-led linkage skyway, MPIC has been pushing for this other project that would use the railroad tracks to build the skyway—together with the vibration from the trains and all.

But most in the Aquino (Part II) administration, including the TRB board and the DOTC, already determined that the MPIC venture was still a long way off. It still has to go through a Swiss challenge for instance. It thus would take way past 2016 to build—to be optimistic about it.

Yet the DPWH has been insisting that the MPIC project be put in the equation of the STOA between the government and the Citra group, forcing the Citra to agree to the demand of MPIC regarding connections and alignments and such high technical matters.

In other words, the DPWH concerns and the MPIC interests are one and the same. Wow!

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TAGS: Infrastructure, Metro Manila Skyway project, Nlex-Slex connector, Philippines - Metro, roads, Skyway
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