Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Politicos, speculators grabbing SCTEx sites

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL Jr. - Philippine Star

CLARK FIELD (PLDT/WeRoam) — Work has been going on furiously here to put back the interchanges of the P27-billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) that had to be dropped when funds were ambushed by “commissioners” along the 94-kilometer road.

The dropping of the vital Clark interchange has embarrassed President Gloria Arroyo, the patroness of the Clark industrial-tourism zone who has been boasting that this signature project in her home province would spark the rapid development of Central Luzon.

But how can the SCTEx serve Clark, its main client, without an interchange through which raw materials can be received from the Subic port and finished products trucked back for export?

To plug the gap, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority has borrowed some P6.4 billion more from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The JBIC already lent earlier some P23 billion for the entire length of the expressway and the missing interchanges.

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WORK RUSHED: One interchange is being rushed near the Yokohama Tire factory in South Clark, and one each in the towns of Floridablanca and Porac, which are adjacent to this former US air base.

There is another interchange near the Expo Filipino (also known as the Ramos White Elephant) but officials are representing it as an extension of Panday Pira road. Why the fuss over what to call it when it is clearly an interchange because it has an exit and an entrance to the SCTEx?

Officials of BCDA assure us that the Panday Pira interchange will be finished before the yearend and the other one near Yokohama by Feb. 14 as a Valentine’s Day gift.

The interchanges at Porac and Floridablanca may take longer (possibly later next year), because the roads to which they will connect are to be built by the Department of Public Works and Highways, which is not known to work that fast.

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SLOW POKE: Some BCDA officials are afraid that if they rush the Porac and Floridablanca interchanges and complete them without the DPWH roads, they would be accused of having put up White Elephants.

They do not want a repeat of the embarrassing “Bridges to Nowhere” of President Arroyo erected by the British firm Mabey & Johnson even where there was no river or creek to span or in the absence of connecting rural roads.

(The scandal did not faze the local runner of M&J. Emboldened by his Palace connection, he has reportedly found a new principal, a French firm, selling steel bridges that are reportedly 2.5 times more expensive than comparative European bridges in the country.)

Engineers said the Porac and the Floriblanca interchanges are actually not as urgent as Yokohama and Panday Pira in Clark, but that the projects are political commitments of somebody in Malacañang.

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SPECULATORS: But the biggest news here at the moment about the interchanges is the frenzied real estate transactions and speculation involving business-minded politicians.

Some technicians tell us that while the owners of land hit by the interchanges have to haggle to get a good price under expropriation proceedings, speculators and officials with insider information gobble up adjacent property at higher prices.

One landowner with property near one interchange is being offered in court only P150 per square meter, while well-connected officials and their business associates have cornered adjacent property for much more.

One interchange being eyed with suspicion, also with jealousy, is the interchange in barangay Dolores in Mabalacat. This is in addition to another interchange, also in the same town, in barangay Mabiga where motorists from North Luzon Expressway enter SCTEx.

We have not heard of a good explanation for the redundancy. Having two interchanges in one town and adding two more right in Clark does not seem to make sense to many observers.

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DESERTED ROAD: A drive through the SCTEx prompts one to ask how the expressway can pay for itself with its scanty traffic.

Driving from Clark to Subic and back, for instance, one hardly sees other vehicles on the road. At the toll rate being charged, the road will not be able to earn enough for its upkeep, much less to pay for the P27 billion borrowed from Japan to build it.

That is just vehicular traffic, most of which consist of a few weekenders and sightseers. As for the trucks and vans supposedly laden with raw materials for the factories in Clark, one hardly sees them.

Despite its obvious design deficiencies, the road is a beautiful experience for Filipinos used to bad roads and who have not traveled abroad. The scenery is still pleasant — until the strip beside the expressway starts getting dotted with squatter shanties and billboards, which may not be far off.

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NO TURNING: Motorists should be warned that there is no exit or U-turn anywhere between Clark and Dinalupihan in Bataan, which are about 50 kilometers apart.

If one enters the expressway and changes his mind or realizes a mistake about which direction he should take, there is no way he can turn around. He has to drive the entire length between Dinalupihan and Clark to go back.

As for the question of why there are no lights, making the expressway dangerous for night driving, motorists are forewarned that they have nothing but their headlights and the reflectorized signs to guide them.

By and large, however, the SCTEx is a good road. Driving through it is an experience — like driving on an expressway abroad — that one wants to talk about.

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