Sasa Port upgrading project feared to worsen traffic

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 July) — A city councilor on Monday called on the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) to conduct a further study on the possible impact of the P17-billion Sasa Port modernization project on traffic.

In a privilege speech, Councilor Diosdado Mahipus expressed fear the project might worsen traffic congestion on the road leading to and from the port and neighboring areas after it becomes fully operational.

“This will become a bottleneck for traffic in Sasa, once this project pushes through,” he said.

He added that even some alternative routes may not be able to carry as much traffic to prevent congestion.

Aside from traffic, the construction of the port might displace several settlers in its immediate environs, he said.

“There’s no need to hurry up this project,” he added.

But in a recent forum, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said they are pushing through with the pre-bidding qualification set on July 29 in order to complete the bidding before the end of President Benigno Aquino III’s term next year.

He said they will consider all the recommendations of the city government and other stakeholders on the proposed modernization plan while undertaking the bidding process.

Councilor Leonardo Avila III said that it is within the jurisdiction of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to develop and construct a port.

The mandate of PPA is “to establish, develop, regulate, manage and operate a rationalized national port system in support of trade and national development.”

Avila even questioned why DOTC has given peculiar attention to Sasa Port among all ports in the country.

Mindanao Business Council (MBC) chair Vicente Lao earlier said the kind of port that DOTC wanted for Davao Region might not be the need of the local exporters and importers.

The region already has two modern ports — Davao International Container Terminal (DICT) and Hijos Resources Corporation — servicing mostly banana exporters, but both claimed they can also cater to the shipment of the other goods.

“It is not the policy of the government to compete with private sector,” Lao added.

Others expressed concern the prices of basic goods would increase as the winning bidder will impose higher fees to recover the high cost of the project.

Abaya countered a more efficient port will mean cheaper goods.

He said modernizing Sasa Port will make for a more efficient operation. At the current state of the port, it takes two days to load and unload cargoes while it will only take four hours with the modernized port.

The PPA previously set the bid cost at P4 billion but the consultants hired by International Finance Corp. (IFC) of the World Bank did a separate assessment and increased the cost to P17 billion.

Abaya clarified the cost is just indicative, meaning it can still go lower depending on the proposal of the bidder.

But former city councilor Peter T. Lavina said placing the project up for bidding with an indicative cost would make it easier to funnel funds as campaign kitty.

He told reporters yesterday that DOTC’s scheme is to award the project to the bidder who pays the government the highest concession fee wins regardless of how much it is willing to pay for the project.

Abaya explained the bidder who can present the most cost-efficient and the highest concession fee will get the project.

Jacobo Mantecon, Hijo Resources Corporation vice president for industrial port services, told reporters that the project may not be overpriced, but the specifications set by DOTC would compel the bidder to pay that much even if the agency insisted that the cost is just indicative.

“We cannot buy a Mercedez Benz for a budget of Toyota,” he said.

Based on the bid document, Mantecon added there is a subsidy from the government.

“I am not aware what a concession fee is but what we are aware of, there is a subsidy in this project. It’s called the visibility gap. If you look at the document, there’s a visibility gap which defines the short between the bidder and the actual cost because at the end of the day, they are right, the bidder will only bid to what he thinks the project will be viable,” he said.

The project has six bidders. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)