POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2012 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Simply call PAGASA the Weather Bureau

SIMPLIFY: No less than President Noynoy Aquino has complained that some of the weather advisories of the PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) cannot be understood by the average Filipino.

There are at least two things the PAGASA can do before the President cries “palpak!” above the storm and again chops off the head of the office:

* Drop the contrived jaw-breaking acronym of a name and simply call itself the Philippine Weather Bureau.

* Lower its language to a level that those in the corridors of power with an IQ of not more than 75 can understand.

* * *

SKIPPING EDSA: I am one of the millions of motorists dreaming of the day when we could drive non-stop between north and south of Metro Manila without having to fight our way through that traffic trap called EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Ave.)

That was why I was elated when President Aquino announced in his State of the Nation Address last July 23 that elevated roadways connecting the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) “can be finished by 2015.”

The dream, however, may just turn into a nightmare if steps are not taken to stop the bureaucratic quarrel threatening to derail the President’s timetable.

As usual, the wrangling is over turf and, I suspect, millions.

* * *

50/50 SPLIT: The Toll Regulatory Board under the Department of Transportation and Communications has been at loggerheads with the Department of Public Works and Highways on who should plan and build the Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEx-SLEx connector roads.

This is unfortunate since, according to sources, President Aquino already issued clear instructions for Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp. (backed by San Miguel Corp.) to start work on their respective connector projects by yearend.

The understanding, we were told, is to have Citra-SMC and MPIC split 50/50 the construction costs of the common area for the tollroad project. The President reportedly gave this directive last May after meeting with the bigwigs of both conglomerates.

* * *

P-NOY’S ORDER: But the DPWH, which is the engineering arm of the government, is now being criticized by some DoTC/TRB personalities for taking seriously its responsibility of providing integrated planning of the country’s highways under the administrative code.

The DPWH said it is merely implementing the instruction of the President to implement both the Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEx-SLEx Connector Road projects.

The DoTC/TRB has ruled that San Miguel (by virtue of its having bought into the local Citra firm) holds the original right to the connector road deal and that Metro Pacific’s proposal is a new project and, as such, is subject to a Swiss challenge.

* * *

BASED ON THE LAW: At stake in the intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering is a major project that would help decongest EDSA and improve access to Manila’s ports. Construction is supposed to start in the fourth quarter.

The two projects have a common alignment. The DPWH wants to make sure, per order of the President, that the two proponents discuss in good faith and agree on the construction and operation of the alignment, and the interlinking of the two connector roads.

But certain sectors, some of them in the DoTC/TRB, are questioning the DPWH’s authority to issue a toll concession agreement for the NLEx-SLEx Connector Road project.

In reply, the DPWH said its mandate is grounded on the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) Law and Executive Order 686, which remains in force until now.

* * *

BENEFITS CITED: In his SONA, the President said that once NLEx and SLEx are connected, manufacturers in northern and southern Luzon would be able to deliver their goods faster, resulting in savings that could be used to hire more workers.

“It will also enhance the connectivity between NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) and Clark (International Airport),” the President said. “Tourism (will be) greatly enhanced as well.”

Previously, MPIC and Citra were debating who should be given the NLEx-SLEx connector project. But the President decided that “the two projects can exist simultaneously, there is enough demand, there is a common alignment, but the two will eventually separate.”

Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas announced in his own press conference at the DoTC that “we don’t expect any hurdles or any major delays in the approval process.”

* * *

CLEAR UP CONFUSION: In 2010, MPIC proposed a P22.95-billion “connector road” consisting of a 13.4-kilometer, four-lane elevated expressway over the Philippine National Railway line between Caloocan and Makati.

Citra, meanwhile, proposed a P25.4-billion, 14-kilometer, six-lane elevated tollway parallel to EDSA, with exits at Puyat (Buendia), Quirino, Plaza Dilao, Aurora Blvd., E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon Blvd., Sgt. Rivera, and Balintawak.

There is no question on the authority of the DoTC/TRB to issue toll operation certificates to operate toll roads and to collect fees for the use of the tollways.

But other parties said that that authority does not prohibit the grant of the toll concession agreement under the BOT Law and EO 686.

Ironically, the heads of both the DoTC and the DPWH, which are in the spotlight in this conflict, are among the most credible Cabinet secretaries. Having the ear of the President, Mar Roxas (DoTC) and Babes Singson (DPWH) can help clear up the confusion that may delay the projects.

There seem to be outside forces — involving government lobbyists and corporate boardroom players — trying to pit the two departments against each other.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2012)

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