MANILA: The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) says the seven month-long truck ban in Metro Manila last year that cost the economy nearly a US$1 billion, underscores the need to address "complex problems with port congestion".

Manila portA new study by the state-funded think tank suggests the idea of just reviving a rail link from Bicol to La Union as an alternative to trucks would have a "negligible effect" on improving current port operations. Of the three major ports - Manila, Batangas, and Subic - Manila is widely used and most preferred by shippers, freight forwarders, logistics providers and truckers says PIDS.

However while shippers, consignees, and importers prefer the proximity of Manila (right) and its cheaper rates, they complain about the "red tape" of Customs procedures. In comparison, they say the port of Batangas has less convenient shipping schedules and handling facilities while Subic is also cited for poor schedules and the longer travel times to and from the port.

The PIDS study authors say Metro Manila needs a comprehensive policy framework to solve the congestion and the underutilization of Batangas and Subic: "In the short term, policymakers can introduce caps, revive the Philippine National Railway operation, and establish 24-hour web-based booking system to facilitate the logistics chain. But these have to be carried out together with a more strategic action. The government must invest heavily in capacity building at the ports and the train tracks, as well as rationalize future port development and investment programs in port infrastructure."

For the longer term, PIDS says that if the Philippines hopes to take full advantage of its economic growth, enhance its position as a transport hub in the region, and position the country's ports in the global supply chain, it must implement a strong and comprehensive national multimodal transport and logistics development plan.