The Un-achieved Blessing of the Eastern Seaboard RORO-Capable Port Towns

I am talking here of the port towns of Pilar and Matnog in Sorsogon, Allen and San Isidro in Northern Samar, Liloan and San Ricardo in Southern Leyte. When port ferry terminals were built there decades ago (a decade in San Ricardo’s case) to connect the islands there were high hopes of them being economically developed from being poor and distant towns to something better.

pilar port christian von jaspela

Pilar port by Christian Von Jaspela of PSSS.

But that clearly did not happen and it seems it won’t be happening soon, no way. Those towns are still lagging economically in all ways. The populations are still small, no infrastructure to boast off, no commercial developments and the municipal incomes are still way down. They are not even first class towns and the best of them is a third class town which is just about average in the hierarchy of Philippine towns in income. They will not compete in any way with the string of towns between Butuan City and Davao City which are almost all first class towns because of agribusiness.

matnog britz

Matnog Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih of PSSS.

The big question is why is it that these towns where so many travelers and vehicles pass through have nothing to boast of when they take in lots of forced collections which are actually illegal according to the Supreme Court in two decisions? In whatever guise whether it is called ‘regulatory”, “environmental” or for garbage these were all declared illegal because the Supreme Court said it is a form of travel tax and only the national government has the right to levy such.

Even the levying of collections against vehicles was also ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. In his ponencia, the then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said only High Urbanized Cities (HUCs) can levy a certain kind of rate on trucks using the port and that should only be for P500 a year. Now, none of the towns I mentioned is an HUC so clearly they have no right to such levy.

balwharteco joe

BALWHARTECO port of Allen by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

And yet after collecting so much from travelers and vehicles passing through their town, Pilar, Matnog, Allen, San Isidro, Liloan and San Ricardo have no development to show after these decades. Worse, it seems these “other incomes” do not show in full in the income reports of these towns. Do all of these collections really go to government coffers? If it did then there must be some infrastructure development that they can show off already.

These illegal levies just go on and on despite two Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) memorandums because no one files a case of contempt or injunction and no one is hauled to jail (that is the only thing lawbreakers fear). It only stops if it is foreigners who question these things like what happened in the case of the Island Garden City of Samal. Well, they say we are governed by laws and there is “rule of law” (or is it “rule of law-ko”, the longer form of “loko”?) Maybe in Davao City only as the city government here did not try to collect any of these illegal fees.

san isidro grek

San Isidro Ferry Terinal by Grek Peromingan of PSSS.

What changed anyway after all these years when in the old past having a port is a passport to development? Well, in the past when there is a port there are compradas for the likes of abaca, corn and coconut. And these are loaded into ships manually (which provide income too) and brought to the likes of Cebu City. In return there are bodegas and stores which bring products from the city to the port town for distribution even to the neighboring towns.

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Liloan Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih

Maybe all these commerce where profit is made and provides livelihood and capital to farmers is the reason why old port towns generally became prosperous. And this seems to be no longer true in the new RORO-capable port towns where goods just pass through, literally. But the question that begs to be asked is what has the local government done to harness the opportunities  in the passing cars, trucks and people? Are they simply content is collecting from them illegal exactions like a landlord (at least this has the legal right)? If such is the case then woe to them and their people. Nothing will really change for them.

benit

Benit port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Actually, the case I am presenting is also true in other parts of the country but I found that more pronounced on the eastern seaboard of the country. Maybe this is a case for serious study by true scholars. It can even be a subject of a thesis.

Whatever, I hope there is a solution to this conundrum.