Increase weekend operations to decongest ports

Natashya Gutierrez
While stakeholders agree on increased operations on weekends, they acknowledge it is only a short-term solution

URGENT PROBLEM. Senator Bam Aquino leads the Senate hearing on congestion in Manila ports. Senate photo

MANILA, Philippines – Finally, a short-term solution to port congestion?

On Wednesday, August 13, at a Senate hearing to address the problem of congestion in Manila ports, representatives from the government and the private sector agreed that pulling out containers over the weekend and Monday mornings would help ease congestion.

Upon the urging of the Senate, the various groups committed to making it possible.

Alberto Suansing, director of the Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines, said truckers would be willing to work Sundays and Mondays even if this was not common practice, and even if it means additional expenses for cargo owners. Customs Commissioner John P. Sevilla, for his part, said they would make sure operations at the bureau would be uninterrupted during weekends.

The private sector also said it would pull out containers on weekends, but that in the past the absence of government officials on these days to clear goods – specifically personnel from the Department of Agriculture (DA) – complicated matters.

Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, the only Cabinet secretary present, gave assurances the DA would be ready to meet these needs, and vowed the government would do its part to make weekend operations possible.

“We notified business organizations already, we talked to them and we requested… to pull out cargo on Sundays and Monday morning,” he said. “The ports are vacant [during those times].”

Weekend operations were the immediate solution agreed upon by stakeholders during the two-hour hearing that focused on the worsening problem of port congestion at the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port (MICP), triggered by a daytime truck ban imposed by the city of Manila.

After this was implemented, empty container vans owned by shipping lines occupied 50% of the container yards, which caused the congestion at the ports.

This led to more problems because many local and international vessels were unable to dock and unload their cargoes, prompting major shipping lines to boycott the city ports due to lack of berthing spaces.

The congestion has also affected at least 20,000 workers who have had less work. It also resulted in an increase in shipping costs of up to 5 to 10 times more, the loss of orders and clients, difficulty in meeting company targets, and increased tracking costs, among others.

Immediate concern

Short-term solutions – such as weekend operations – are being eyed as a means to address the current backlog caused by the ban.

According to Domingo, ports are processing 2,500 containers per day only, down from their usual 6,000 a day before the truck ban. Manila ports are capable of processing 5,000 per day.

International Container Terminal Services Incorporated (ICTSI) Chairman Christian Gonzales said the first challenge is returning to the normal processing rate.

“What we really need to focus on now, today, is how to go back to the normal situation,” he said.

“Getting this backlog sorted out is going to cause traffic. We need to ensure these trucks are going back and forth.”

Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno – who defended his city’s decision to impose a truck ban to address the capital’s traffic – vowed to give trucks 24-hour, uninterrupted access to the South Expressway by Monday, August 18.

He also suggested night-time operations, saying Manila is willing to allow trucks to fully operate after dark, adding it would even provide trucks exclusive access to 1-2 lanes.

Meanwhile, Domingo said the government will also be moving 3,000 containers that have overstayed at the Manila ports to Subic, also by Monday.

Much bigger problem

Despite these short-term solutions, stakeholders made it clear that the issue of port congestion is a much bigger problem in need of long-term solutions.

Domingo cited the need to “add more capacity” as the current ports in use are not enough.

“We really need to build a new port because our economy will continue to grow, and as it is, our port capacity has already been exceeded,” he said.

While the government has made moves to utilize ports in Batangas and Subic, Domingo stressed these posts are still not enough, since Batangas can accommodate only 400,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually, and Subic, only 600,000.

Manila ports have a 3 million TEU capacity per year.

Doris Magsaysay-Ho, president of the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, agreed there is a need to look at the problem strategically – both short-term and long-term, and that the other ports outside Manila are too small. She emphasized “ports in Manila are key” and are “very important to [the country’s] trade.”

“We have to look at much more strategic ways to maximize port capacity,” she said.
“We have to think of a way to get road networks out so there’s a good flow.”

Gonzales echoed Magsayasay-Ho’s sentiment, highlighting the need for connector roads that will make access to ports easier, and allow importers and exporters to take cargo from Batangas and Subic into the metro and vice-versa.

“What drives capacity in Manila is the limitation of the road. This is why despite everyone’s best intentions… the ports were squeezed further,” he said. “We need to improve the road situation.”

Lack of government action?

Senator Chiz Escudero, who was also present at the hearing, questioned why the government, having known the economy is growing, had not anticipated the problem earlier.

He also slammed the administration for going after colorum trucks as a way to ease port congestion – a solution which, he said, was not helpful at the moment.

Escudero was not the only one to suggest government inaction.

Federation of Philippine Industries director Ernesto Ordoñez also said there were things inherently missing in the attempt to solve the problem, suggesting there was a need to outline priorities.

“We need priorities. Go after colorum later. We need good management. Don’t mess around with colorum right now,” he said.

Ordoñez also decried the lack of leadership from the government in addressing the problem.

“We want to see a team. We do not see a team,” he said, adding the President should assign a point person to lead coordination among stakeholders. “After today, we want a more strategic move with a team and a leader.”

Both Escudero and Ordoñez called for a timeline from the government that would show when the problem is expected to be resolved and what concrete moves it would take given the increased volume expected for the holiday season. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.