ROUGH CUTS| The Sta. Ana port project: make it happen

SO THE Davao City government is now in the preparatory stage of the Sta. Ana port development project implementation?

     It is what we can deduce from the recent statement of Engr. Ivan Cortez, acting head of the city’s Investment Promotions Center who also claimed that it may happen evev ahead of the controversial Sasa Port Modernization Project.

     Moreover, according to Cortez, the Swiss Challenge bidding has already been conducted and that no one has challenge the bid of the original project proponent, the Mega Harbor Development Corporation’s P39 billion estimate

     According to Cortez the Sta. Ana port development will have a total area of about 200 hectares part of which will be derived from reclaiming the shoreline. The project will have among its components a wharf, housing, a commercial complex, and a coastal road that will allow access to the port without passing the city’s downtown area. The purpose of the latter component is understandably to avoid a massive build-up of vehicular traffic. The project is to be implemented under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme.

     From the pronouncement of Cortez we can assume that the Sta. Ana port development initiative is emanating from the city government and as such we believe that the local government has already acquired rights over the port area. Air and sea ports are normally under the province of the national government that is why these are operated by special sub-agencies under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

     But if this is now the case of the Sta. Ana port, then it is to the great advantage of Davao City since it will have more flexibility to decide on what to do with the port, how to develop it and how this should be run once the project is completed.

     The city government however, is hitting the nail right on the head when it demanded from the proponent a study on the impact of the project on the traffic situation. It is the responsibility of the city officials to ensure that such a gargantuan project will not also create even bigger problem of traffic congestion.

     We all know that the location of the Sta. Ana port is accessible only by passing the city’s central district. In fact all roads directly leading to the area are the busiest in the city and are often the sites of traffic gridlock. Hence, it would be more prudent for the city not just to ask for a study of the impact of the project on the traffic situation but to recommend, other than the construction of a coastal road, some more solutions to reduce vehicular congestions in and around the port area.

     What we are looking at is to include under the housing component of the project additional ingress and egress roads passing through the housing area. We believe that these will be critical for the smooth flow of lighter vehicles that will enter and come out of the port area. The coastal highway can be devoted to large trucks delivering or withdrawing cargoes from the port.

     Actually, we are assuming that the housing component of the port project in Sta. Ana is intended to address the problem of informal settlers now occupying the vicinity of the port running from the back of the headquarters of the Task Force Davao to the San Juan Village up to the shores of Agdao.

     They are too many that asking them to agree even just for a temporary displacement while the housing component of the port development is to be implemented will require serious negotiating skills. Such will be one, if not the biggest hurdle that the city government and the project proponent will have to confront. Another problem that needs to be confronted by the city government to realize the Sta. Ana port project is the conversion of the status of a huge portion of the Sta. Ana area from purely residential to mix use or maybe commercial or light industrial. The mini-forest area and the so-called Isla Verde have been decreed by former President Joseph Estrada as purely residential. And since these areas are part of the port’s total development plan, conversion is a must before the proposed gargantuan project for the city by Mega Harbour can even start.

     And yes, both the city and the project proponent are reported extra careful in forcefully pushing the project because of that one provision of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law which gives the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) the power to disallow the implementation of a project if by its evaluation, it does not conform to the national government prescriptions. Somehow, this power of NEDA serves as the balancing mechanism to the authority of the local government units to disallow implementation of any national government-initiated project if it does not follow the processes under the Local Government Code.

     Probably, this is also the reason why Davao City Mayor now presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte is getting more passionate in his advocacy for a Federal form of government. He knows very well that this present highly centralized system oftentimes deters the onset of development at the local level.

     Will the Sta. Ana Port project be Duterte’s acid test in pursuing development programs that may run against certain limiting policies of the national government?

     As we love to quote, the real measure of development is when project beneficiaries are far greater in number than the perceived sufferers. And every project has beneficiaries as there are sufferers. That is part of the trade-offs. But there is always a way to resolve issues attendant to all these.

     If we have our way though, we’d rather that the development of the Sta. Ana wharf be geared towards converting the area into an economic zone basically with the same proposed project components. It should not be made to compete with the Sasa port. Instead, its wharf facilities should cater only to vessels loading outbound economic zone products and incoming shipment of raw materials for ecozone locators.

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