HOR COMPLEX, Quezon City (DWDD) – Despite the congressional recess, the House committee on transportation chaired by Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes) convened to report on the outcome of its 11-day Western-Eastern Nautical Highway Expedition held from March 17 to 27, 2017.
The committee also scrutinized the plans of concerned government agencies and stakeholders in preparation for the upcoming Holy Week, including their contingency measures for the expected traffic congestion. These measures will ensure the convenience, safety and security of the riding public and the promotion and growth of local tourism.
At the start of the hearing, Sarmiento thanked the House leadership for making the First “Naval Highway, Roads and Ports Inspection” a reality.
“Let me thank the leadership of House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez (1st District, Davao del Norte) and Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas (1st District, Ilocos Norte) for their support and for making this worthwhile endeavor a reality. This is historic because this is the first time that the Congress leadership, headed by the Speaker and the Majority Leader, undertook port inspection in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,’’ said Sarmiento.
Likewise, Sarmiento thanked the chairpersons of other House committees who joined the transportation panel and other legislators in the roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) inspections. He cited the valuable support and inputs of the lawmakers, among them public works and highways committee chairman Rep. Celso L. Lobregat (1st District, Zamboanga City) and Rep. Arnolfo A. Teves, Jr. (3rd District, Negros Oriental).
He also thanked the various agencies and stakeholders who were likewise present during the hearing.
The lawmakers joined the 11-day caravan in various parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to inspect the nautical highway, roads, bridges, and tourist destinations. It started midnight of March 17 and culminated midnight of March 27.
Of the six House Leaders who returned in Manila, Sarmiento said only four, dubbed by Fariñas as the “Fantastic Four,” were able to complete the 11-day ports inspection, namely: the Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo P. Bondoc (4th District, Pampanga), Sarmiento, and transportation committee vice-chairman Rep. Edgar S. Sarmiento (1st District, Samar).
Sarmiento said the results of the RO-RO inspection call for executive and legislative action, and among these are: 1) the number of franchised vehicles per land route, their capacity and condition; 2) the number of franchised vessels per sea route, their capacity and condition; and 3) the capacity of ports and terminal buildings, and the condition of existing port facilities.
“With this data and experience we had during the expedition, we can and we should come up with the needed development programs as regards our ports, our sea vessels and our land transport system. We already did half of the work when we inspected for ourselves the nautical highway. And it will be a big failure if the expedition inspection will not translate it into any improvement. Failure to do so will be a great disservice to our people,” Sarmiento stressed.
Other issues which were evident during the caravan and which the committee believed needs attention were: the remaining road networks in the nautical highway needing improvement; port congestion; free facilities for stopovers; facilities in ports, especially for Persons with Disability (PWDs), women and children.
Sarmiento and Rep. Federico S. Sandoval II (Lone District, Malabon) reminded the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of their duty to check the seaworthiness of all vessels to guarantee the safety of passengers and address port congestion in coordination with related agencies and offices. They both recalled seeing old vessels in Dumaguete which they called “floating coffins.”
Sandoval also advised all concerned agencies to ask for everything they need during the budget deliberations since the lawmakers themselves have seen first-hand during the caravan what infrastructures are still lacking. “I’m certain Congress is more receptive now,” he said.
Teves suggested the use of ID scanners in all ports to make the processing of passenger manifests faster and more efficient. On the issue of stopover facilities, he recommended that the Department of Tourism (DOT), through its Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), invest in comfortable rest stops throughout the nautical highway to encourage the riding public to take the RO-RO. He, however, sought clarification on whose jurisdiction the rest stops’ maintenance falls.
Teves also proposed to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to widen the roads from ports to cities, to lessen the traffic to and from ports. Sarmiento said that seamless connectivity between seaports will further encourage tourism.
Lobregat said the DOT and DPWH may be tasked to construct these rest stops, but the local government units (LGUs), which would request these rest stops in their respective localities, should be in-charge of their upkeep and repair.
Lobregat noted that in some areas, among the issues hampering the completion of road projects are the peace and order situation in certain localities, and the environmental/geographical setting which made the projects prone to natural occurrences, like landslides.
Meanwhile, with the onset of the Holy Week observance in a few days, concerned agencies updated the committee on their preparations to ensure the comfort, convenience and safety of the riding public in the various land, sea and air transports and also air and sea ports.
The concerned agencies also stressed the importance of securing all packages and cargoes transported to prevent the transport of illegal drugs, explosives and other contraband.
Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chairman lawyer Martin Delgra III said the LTFRB plans to continue its annual terminal inspection operations dubbed “Oplan Kwaresma” all throughout the Holy Week season.
Delgra said the agency has been processing special permits, with 1,600 permits issued so far, to address transport shortage during the Holy Week season. He assured the shortage is only temporary.
Sarmiento, however, appealed to the LTFRB to address the rising volume of “colorum” vehicles in all provinces, mainly because of the increased volume of visitors in tourism areas this summer vacation.
Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) said an annual inter-agency operation during summer vacation dubbed “Oplan Sumvac” is jointly initiated by their office, the LTFRB, Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and other regulatory agencies for the conduct of half-day seminars and issuance of reminders to ensure that vehicles, terminals and drivers are prepared for the Lenten season.
Police Chief Supt. Antonio Gardiola, Jr., Director of the PNP-HPG, said the PNP participates in the annual inter-agency summer vacation operations, which are categorized into three phases namely, closing of classes, Holy Week celebration, and opening of classes. He said PNP-HPG deploys and helps provide security to the different terminals and highways.
Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Administrator C/E Marcial Amaro III apprised the committee about their “Oplan Ligtas Biyahe” project which is being done in coordination with the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the PCG. This is being undertaken despite the shortage of MARINA’S manpower, with only 411 personnel scattered over the 13 regions of the country.
Lawyer Jay Santiago, PPA General Managr, said the PPA is closely coordinating with law enforcement agencies for stricter security during the Holy Week. He further said the caravan was an eye-opener for them, not only in terms of the state of infrastructure, but also in the overall operations of the country’s ports.
Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) representatives headed by Captain Nestor Posano gave an audio-visual presentation on CAAP’s Holy Week project called “Oplan Ligtas Biyahe”.
Airport Police Department Manager Romeo Labador of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) also said the MIAA is prepared for the Holy Week observance and updated the committee on their plans to address the expected traffic to and from airports.
Assistant Secretary Eugenio Pipo, Jr. of the DPWH took note of Lobregat’s and Teves’ suggestion to improve signages not only along the highways, but also within ports, and preferably written in local and foreign languages as Teves suggested. CONGRESS / MCAG