Aquino thanks 'idol' Ramon Ang for TPLex

MANILA, Philippines – On Monday, December 23, President Benigno Aquino III was too happy he called San Miguel Corporation (SMC) president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang his "idol." SMC declared the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union expressway (TPLex) will be completed by 2015 or 3 years earlier than the original target. 

The President formally opened on Monday the Tarlac City-Gerona-Paniqui section of the expressway through an inaugural drive through. He said it's an early Christmas gift to commuters, especially his fellow Tarlaqueños. 

The toll road cuts down to 30 minutes the usual 70 minutes travel time from Tarlac City to Paniqui – a route taken by about 8,000 motorists every day. 

The project pleased the President. In his opening remarks, he greeted Ang: "Siyempre, ating idol po si Mr. Ramon Ang."

Ang is a longtime associate of business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr, an uncle of the President's who was estranged for a long time from the Aquino family. Cojuangco is a known crony of the Aquinos' nemesis - the late President Ferdinand Marcos – though he backed Aquino in the 2010 presidential race.

Ang's fortunes rose under another Aquino nemesis, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In 2002, Cojuangco named him president and CEO of SMC. (READ: Billionaire Ramon Ang)

3rd toll road

The Tarlac City-Gerona section was opened on October 31. It was extended to Paniqui in time for the formal opening rites. 

"There is no doubt. The TPLex project is proof of the good results of public-private partnership in public service delivery. We thank the  Private Infrastructure Development Corporation (PIDC) in making this possible," Aquino said in his speech. He also praised Public Works secretary Rogelio Singson. (PIDC is the infrastructure arm of SMC.)

TPLex is the 3rd toll road that caters to motorists coming from Manila going to northern Luzon. The other 2 are Northern Luzon expressway (NLex) and Subic-Clark-Tarlarc expressway (SCTEx).

Aquino said the section of TPLex extending the toll road to Rosales, Pangasinan, will be completed by 2014. The final section extending it to Rosario, La Union, will be completed by 2015. TPLex will cut down the original 3-hour travel time from Tarlac City to La Union to an hour.

The opening of the the Gerona- Paniqui section brings to 23 kilometers the total length of the expressway that is operational.

The expressway

Once completed, the P23.8-billion TPLEx project will have exits from Gerona in the following locations:

"It will only take an hour to get from Tarlac City to  Rosario, La Union once the entire TPLEX has been completed, much faster compared to the current travel time of three hours. This is definitely a blessing to some 20,000 passengers who travel  daily, " Aquino noted.

PIDC originally designed  the TPLEX as a two-lane road, but  decided to upgrade it to 4 lanes to enhance efficiency and road safety and anticipate future growth in traffic volume. 

Aquino recalled his youth when the long travel from Manila to Baguio City was an "adventure" and a "rite of passage" without the toll roads. "I can’t really help but really dwell on what the future has in store for us here in Central and Northern Luzon where everything becomes that much more accessible. We’re targeting about five million tourists this year from the three million baseline," Aquino said.

He said areas such as the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan and Baguio City will be more accessible. He said he wants the same toll road from Manila to Lucena in southern Luzon.

Aquino said the toll road will also help boost trade and commerce in the region. – with Carmela Fonbuena and Cherrie Regalado/Rappler.com