Cargo piling up at Manila docks amid truck ban

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 1:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 1:13am

Cargo containers filled with goods from toys to electronics are piling up on Manila's docks as a rush-hour truck ban threatens to dent growth in the Philippines, Southeast Asia's fastest-expanding economy.

Incoming cargo boxes have lingered at International Container Terminal Services' 100-hectare port facility an average of 10 days - up from the usual six - since Mayor Joseph Estrada declared the ban in February, said Christian Gonzalez, the company's regional head. The port, which can't be accessed without going through Manila's roads, handles more than half of the nation's overseas freight.

While the ban was intended to ease chronic gridlock in the heart of a region of almost 23 million people, the shipping backlogs have become so severe they are being called a drag on the country's growth. The former American colony saw its debt rating raised to investment grade last year after decades of corruption, political upheaval and lacklustre growth that led to it once being dubbed the "sick man of Asia".

"You're effectively closing the tap on growth," Gonzalez said of the truck ban. "People need to start realising this is a long-term issue for the economy."

Citigroup estimated in a note dated March 7 that delays could lead to an annual loss of 61 billion pesos (HK$10.8 billion) to 320 billion pesos, or as much as 2.9 per cent of gross domestic product in Southeast Asia's second-most populous nation. That would dwarf a potential annual gain of roughly 30 billion pesos from having less-congested roads in the capital, said Jun Trinidad, a Citigroup economist based in Manila.

Estrada enacted the truck ban on February 24 in an attempt to ease traffic in a place notorious for daily commutes of five hours or more. Eight-wheeled trucks and vehicles weighing more than 4,500 kilograms are prohibited from Manila roads from 5am to 10am and 3pm to 9pm, Monday to Saturday.

"Some quarters are still pushing for a few more revisions to the truck ban," said Abigail Valte, spokeswoman for President Benigno Aquino. "We leave it to the local government to act on these requests."

"The days when buses and trucks were king of the road are over," Estrada, 77, said after the regulation took effect.