CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines — The government-run Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), the proponent of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, will not operate and manage the 94-kilometer toll road connecting Clark and Subic freeports and the Luisita Industrial Park in Tarlac City, according to BCDA chairman Narciso Abaya.
“Well, no,” Abaya said in reaction to the apprehension expressed by the private multisectoral group Advocacy for the Development of Central Luzon (ADCL).
Explaining for the hesitance, ADCL Chair Rene Romero cited the government’s “poor” track record in managing toll roads.
He said the North Luzon Expressway, which Philippine National Construction Corp. managed for more than three decades, only improved when the Lopez family-led Manila North Tollways Corp. won the bid to rehabilitate and manage it.
The 82-kilometer highway on Central Luzon’s eastern side opened in February 2005. It was met by protests, however, due to high toll rates that were more than 100 times the old rates.
“We are concerned that if the SCTEx will be operational and its operation and management [are] not awarded to a winning bidder, the BCDA might be assigned to operate the tollway,” Romero said.
In that case, Renato Tayag Jr., ADCL co-chair for infrastructure development, said “the toll road might not serve its purpose for a long time, given the way government handles such infrastructures. The NLEX is a clear example of how a private corporation can efficiently manage an infrastructure at no cost to the government.”
Abaya, in a phone interview on Tuesday, said the second bidding failed due mainly to costs that were above the BCDA’s ceiling.
“We are now reviewing our terms of reference for the third bidding. We are also exploring an interim arrangement for a third party to operate in case the third bidding will not be finished before the scheduled opening. But the operations and management will be privatized. We just want to be sure that we maximize our revenues from the toll expressway. After all it is the BCDA that will pay for the loan used to finance this project,” he said.
An operations and management bids and awards committee has been created for that purpose.
“What we should be careful of are lobby or pressure groups that are working for some other groups’ interests, not of the BCDA’s or the government’s,” Abaya said in a text message.
Romero said the ADCL was not lobbying for any group but only wanted the private sector to handle the toll management for efficiency.
Asked about the proposed rates per kilometer, Abaya said it was the Toll Regulatory Board that prescribed the amount. The TRB, he added, had been holding public hearings on the rates. No such hearings were known to be held in Pampanga, though.
“It is the BCDA that shall pay for the loan out of the (toll) revenues. Kung masyadong mataas baka malugi kami (If the rates are too high we might be in the red),” Abaya said.
“We have to look after the expected revenues that are sufficient, [enough for us] to pay the loan and be not a burden to the national government.”
The project’s profile showed that the loan agreement for 41,931 million yen was signed by Philippine and Japanese officials on Sept. 14, 2001.
The loan has an annual interest rate of 0.95 percent and a grace period of 10 years. It is payable within 30 years.
The 44-kilometer Pampanga-Tarlac side is due to be completed next month. The 50-kilometer Bataan-Pampanga portion, supposed to be finished in November, has been applied for a four-month extension by its Japanese contractor, the Kajima-Obayashi-JFE Engineering-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries joint venture.