Battle of ports: Where should Calabarzon shipments go?
The Batangas port is under-utilized, but Manila port operator ICTSI says the problem cannot be solved by diverting shipments from Manila

UNDERUTILIZED. A lawmaker says he believes the utilization of the Batangas port can help ease traffic in Manila. Photo by Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines – What do you do with the port in Batangas?

The representative of the province’s second district says the port is underutilized, and proposes that shipments meant for provinces in the region south of Metro Manila be directed to it.

But that would mean taking more than half of the shipments – therefore, earnings – from the Port of Manila. And port operator International Container Terminal Services Incorporated (ICTSI) says the case is not that simple.

Batangas Representative Raneo Abu has proposed the transfer of shipments for the Calabarzon area from the Port of Manila to the Port of Batangas to decongest the Manila port and help ease traffic in the Metro 

He cited data from ICTSI itself, showing 66% of shipments at the Port of Manila – the biggest port in the country – are for the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon anyway. Of this share, 43% is Laguna, 15% for Batangas, and 8% for Cavite. 

Besides, the Batangas port is underutilized. In 2013, Abu filed House Resolution 38 to investigate the “gross underutilization” of the facility.

In a committee hearing at the House of Representatives, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) reported that the Batangas port – built through a P5.5-billion loan from Japan Bank of International Cooperation – was only 4% utilized.

According to Abu, transferring shipments to the Batangas port would not only help decongest the Port of Manila but also lessen traffic in the Metro, especially in the midst of massive roadwork in various areas

‘Irresponsible use of statistics’

ICTSI, the source of the data on shipments, rejected the proposal and criticized the congressman for his “irresponsible use of statistics.” 

In a statement on Wednesday, February 26, Christian Gonzales, ICSTI head of the Asian region, denied Abu’s claim that the Manila port was congested. 

“People need to be more responsible with their use of statistics,” he said.

Gonzales said the Port of Manila was better equipped to handle shipments to and from the Calabarzon area because it has a bigger capacity at 3.8 million 20-foot equivalent containers (TEUs).

The Batangas Port only has 300,000 TEUs for a market that is composed of approximately 1.4 million TEUs of imports, he said.

Gonzales also pointed out that “most” of the 500,000 TEUs of exports come from Cavite, a province that is nearer Manila.

Meanwhile, Gonzales noted that about 900,000 TEUs are empty containers – a result of “trade imbalance” due to multiple handling.

The answer to easing traffic, Gonzales said, is to build more roads, not transfer shipments to the Batangas port. 

“What is lacking, and what has been lacking for the last few decades, is road infrastructure. Congestion on land is largely a result of lack of road infrastructure to match the growth of the economy. The low utilization of outports is likewise driven by poor road infrastructure. No shipping line or customer of a shipping line will want to use Batangas or Subic if it cannot get the majority of imports destined into the capital through the roads,” Gonzales said. 

Politics involved? 

Abu, meanwhile, believes otherwise. In a DZMM radio interview, he said it would be cheaper for businesses to ship goods for the Calabarzon through the Batangas Port. 

The lawmaker said shipping companies continue to choose the Port of Manila due to existing business relations and pressures on the Bureau of Customs to meet their targers. 

Unang-una nakikita ko, suki-suki ‘yan. Baka itong mga PPA, Customs ay may mga suki na brokerage firms. Pati truckers may mga suki na, Abu said. 

(First of all, they have regular customers. Maybe the PPA, Customs, they use regular brokerage firms. Even truckers have regular clients.)

Abu also said the customs bureau may fail to meet their targets if the shipments are transferred to Batangas.

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