Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Port congestion holiday nightmare

Holiday cheer can turn quickly into a port congestion nightmare. This will be the case unless the government and private sector take decisive action.

But this time, the challenge is faced more by the private sector than the government.


During the last weekend, the private sector took the expected path of moving cargo at a slower rate than during the weekdays. Consequently, port congestion worsened from 80 percent to 86 percent at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) and from 74 percent to 91 percent at the South Harbor Terminal. The ideal port utilization is 70 percent.

The congestion was at its worst during the Manila truck ban earlier this year, when port utilization was at its highest at 105 percent. At that time, the joint House committees on transportation and Metro Manila Development estimated the port congestion losses at P2.5 billion a day.

When Secretary Rene Almendras took charge of the port congestion issue, the government and private sector rallied behind him. The results are provided below:

However, port congestion remains a very serious problem. This is because of the accumulated backlog from the Manila truck ban and the Christmas season holiday import surge. Both the government and private sector must take further action to address this backlog. Examples are opening up the container yards (CYs) during off-hours to accept empty containers, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) following the Bureau of Customs (BOC) example of streamlining its bureaucratic procedures to enable the importers to get their legitimate goods out of the port.


Estimated port congestion

If we take the conservative view experienced by MICT of increasing port congestion by 3 percent a day during last weekend, and assume the same slow movement of goods during the holidays, port congestion will reach 107 percent by Jan. 5. This will be even worse than the congestion experienced during the Manila truck ban.

Excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, there are nine days during this season when cargo movement may be as slow as during the weekends. If this happens, there will be a 27-percent increase in port congestion from 80 percent to 107 percent.

The trade needed to save jobs will be severely hampered. The farmers and fisherfolk who need imported inputs and equipment, as well as the timely delivery of their exports, will suffer a severe setback. The loss of confidence in our ability to do business will cause companies to close down, investments to shrink, and jobs and incomes to be lost. We must not let this happen.


While the government should do its share by keeping its offices open so the private sector can continue to do business, the focus will now be on the private sector on its willingness to conduct business during the holidays. It is painfully true that when the government opened its port offices during a few weekends to enable the private sector to move its cargo, the private sector did not do so. During those times, the government did its share, but the private did not.

The Alyansa Agrikultura is taking action on requesting government offices to be open during the holidays (except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day).

However, the greater risk is that the private sector may take a long break and contribute to the port congestion problem rearing its ugly head again. At 107 percent port congestion, all the gains we worked so hard on will disappear. We will be back to square one.

For sure, working during the holidays will be a sacrifice. But if the government can do it, why not the private sector? During the Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda’ and ‘Ruby’ calamities, we saw the private sector work hand in hand with the government in rising up to a national challenge.

Though not as obvious or dramatic as the two aforementioned calamities, port congestion is equally or even more disastrous. This is because it has long-term implications on income loss, job generation and inclusive growth. The confidence in our country to protect and promote business and jobs has been shaken by our delayed handling of the port congestion issue.

We are slowly gaining this confidence back. But if we do not respond appropriately during the coming holidays, we may be regarded as unreliable business and development partners. It is imperative that we do not take this potential port congestion nightmare lightly. We should instead address it with the same competence and passion that we exhibited in the aftermath of the Yolanda and Ruby calamities.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email or telefax (02) 8522112).

Category       MICT             South Harbor

Manila truck ban    Today            Manila truck ban    Today

Port Utilization        105%            81%    100%            80%

Imports Released   2,200 TEU   4,600 TEU    750 EU          1,100 EU

Vessels Waiting       29       15       15      4

Import Container Dwell Time

(Before Discharge) 20 days        13 days         15 days         9 days

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TAGS: Alyansa Agrikultura, congestion, Manila International Container Terminal, Manila truck ban, MICT, port congestion, Port utilization, Rene Almendras, South Harbor Terminal
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