PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO'S SPEECH DURING THE 2nd STRONG REPUBLIC NAUTICAL HIGHWAY CONFERENCE
Grand Convention Hall, Xavier Estates, Airport Road
Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental
April 30, 2008
Thank you, Secretary Larry Mendoza, who is my right hand man in implementing the Strong Republic Nautical Highway because he is a strong Cabinet member. Congratulations! (applause)
Mayor Jaraula and the other officials of Cagayan de Oro, thank you for your hospitality once again, and thank you for your beautiful words, Mayor Jaraula; Ambassador Kristy Kenny, thank you for the role that America has played in our RO-RO system, in our peace and development in the South, and being a strong ally of the Philippines on everything else. (applause)
Doctor Antonio; our Cabinet members and other national officials who've come with me today; our Congressmen, this district is in the jurisdiction of Congressman Uy, and we also have in Misamis Oriental, Congressman Bambi Emano; we have his father, Vice Mayor Emano who has a seat here but is always very shy, he doesn't like to sit in the head table; (applause) and we have from Bukidnon, Congressman Pancrudo, (applause) though the port is in Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon is certainly a part of our nautical highway.
Just today, when we were in the car coming from the airport, Mayor Jaraula gave me me a message from Mayor Michael Fariñas and a whole party of 72 people. They went to Bukidnon -- they're in Bukidnon now -- but they left a message for me that what we are saying here is true because they travel from Laoag to Batangas through the RO-RO to Misamis Oriental and to Bukidnon. (applause) So they are living proof of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway.
Other stakeholders of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, ladies and gentlemen.
How wonderful that we are celebrating today the Central Nautical Highway. And I want to take this opportunity to tell the story of how it all began.
In 2002, at a planning conference of the Cabinet in Clark, Larry Mendoza was there, I presented to the Cabinet a work program -- actually, eight work programs -- one of them was a program to reduce transport costs from the food basket of Mindanao to the large consuming market of Luzon. At that time, the Secretary of Transportation was already Larry, the Secretary of Agriculture was Cito Lorenzo from Bukidnon, the head of the PPA was Al Cusi from Cagayan de Oro, and Cito and Al had started doing something about decreasing handling and wharfage costs but at great difficulty. I instructed the DBP to take the lead for other measures like financing logistics, storage and port facilities in Mindanao.
In the process, we pulled out from the DBP filing cabinet an obscure master plan of a Sustainable Logistics Development Plan initiated by their Senior Vice President Marietto Enecio, made up of 48 Road and Roll-on/Roll-off ferry routes.
This morning, I asked... I called up Rey David and I asked, "Tell me the name of the person who did that whole drawing and who did all of those.... the table planning." And he gave me the name of Marietto Enecio. And he said that Marietto had just retired last March, so I guess in his retirement we should thank him and make him feel that he did something very important for our country during his stint in the bureaucracy. (applause)
At a Mindanao Shippers Conference that year -- and maybe many of you were present in that conference, certainly Dongkoy was there because he was the mayor -- we launched the DBP Program with a 20 billion-peso fund portfolio for long-term lending. So we moved on to implement it. In 2003, we completed the Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte to Dumaguete, Negros Oriental route and the Roxas, Mindoro Oriental to Caticlan, Aklan route which was very popular because that made Boracay very accessible. People used to pay 5,000 pesos for a plane ride to Boracay. With that route, they were paying 500 pesos to hop on a bus and enjoy the paradise of Boracay.
So we launched the trip and we baptized what we rolled on, what we travelled on as the Strong Republic Nautical Highway -- a 900-kilometer seamless stretch of road and ports that cut travel time by 12 hours. And if I may go to the... I can't help being a teacher. (laughter/applause) This is the route we created. We created Dapitan to Dumaguete, it was very unprofitable in the beginning. Today, there are 9 trips a day, Dapitan to Dumaguete. And these were all existing, this was existing, this was existing, we created this and of course all of this was existing, and that became the first Strong Republic Nutical Highway.
And after that, it went on and on and became a huge success that you being stakeholders are all aware of. It cut down by 12 hours the trip to Dapitan to Batangas port and on to any point of Luzon by land.
Now, thanks to the U.S. government, that Nautical Highway can connect through the Dapitan-Siocon Road, which we are completing, to the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi Corridor that (applause) Ambassador Kenny described. This corridor is made up of the GEM funded RO-RO ports in Lamitan, Basilan; in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte; in Siasi, Sulu and in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
So Michael Fariñas doesn't just have to go to Bukidnon. If one day he wants to go to Tawi-Tawi, he and his group of 72 can hop on a coaster and travel all the way to the Strong Republic Nautical Highway.
But going to the U.S., indeed, the U.S. has worked side by side with our military and local officials on a large number of community public works projects. The positive impact of these projects cannot be overstated: from RO-RO ports to health care like the U.S. Mercy; the building schools. The outreach has built more than buildings – it has built trust, which is the basis for effective and lasting democracy. If anybody wants to see a place where Muslim brethren welcome U.S. soldiers with open arms, it is in southwestern Philippines. Thank you Ambassador Kenny. (applause)
And today, we showcase the Strong Republic Nautical Highway Number 2. We started last Monday -- may I go back to my map -- (applause) we started last Monday in Bulan, Sorsogon and the RO-RO boat will travel from Bulan to Masbate City. And the track can go by road to Cawayan in Masbate. And we saw off a RO-RO boat and the RO-RO boat will be travelling from Cawayan to Bogo in Cebu. Of course, from Bogo you travel to Cebu City, and in Cebu City we saw off the ongoing RO-RO boat, RO-RO trip to Talibon in Bohol. In Talibon, we rode the bus to Jagna, we rode the RO-RO and had a Cabinet meeting from Jagna to Camiguin, to Mambajao. Last night, we had a great time at the beach, and this morning, sorry to be late, because we went from where is... we went from Mambajao to Benoni which is the traditional RO-RO port and saw off a boat that landed in Balingoan, and that's why Governor Moreno is not yet here. When he found out I was going to go to Balingoan, he drove there to meet me and then I came back by helicopter before he even arrived in Balingoan. (laughter/applause) But I'm sure he's gonna come here.
So in sum, the Central Nautical Highway goes from Sorsogon to Misamis Oriental. But we wanted a smooth Central Nautical Highway. So we did this route in order to see how we can improve whatever has to be improved. So having gone through the route or had reports along the way, we will prioritize the improvement of the Masbate City-Cawayan road, and we will improve the Tubigon-Jagna road in Bohol. Incidentally, the Tubigon- Jagna road which doesn't have to go to Tagbilaran will cut across the island and it will pass through Chocolate Hills.
So may I take this opportunity to ask everyone to vote for Chocolate Hills, Tubattaha, Puerto Princesa Underground River and Mayon Volcano in for the New Seven Wonders of the World. (applause) www.newsevenwonders.com
Anyway, to make that route smooth not only we will improve those two national roads I mentioned but the Secretary of Public Works shall declare the access road to the Pilar Port in Sorsogon and the access road to the Cawayan Port in Masbate as national roads. The RO-RO Shipping Association, and they're here with us today, aren’t they? Or they're also on the road from Balingoan together with... Larry said they are arriving in 20 minutes. I wonder who will arrive first, the Governor or them. But they shall be part of the Inter-agency Strong Republic Nautical Highway group.
And as a result also of their recommendation yesterday, we have asked Secretary Teves to instruct the DBP that they should not limit their financing of RO-RO boats to missionary routes. But any and all creditworthy proposals for RO-RO boats. (applause)
At the same time yesterday, we also agreed in the Cabinet meeting that we will remove the truck ban on food cargo. (applause) I was looking at this backdrop -- second, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway the last mile. No, this is not the last mile. I now instruct the DOTC to work on the Eastern Nautical Highway. (applause) To my map, the Eastern Nautical Highway will begin in Pilar, Sorsogon -- that’s why we have to fix the road -- through Masbate to Naval in Biliran to Leyte Island and on to Surigao del Sur.
A lot of these is old routes but the new route is the one that includes Biliran. So just as Masbate is benefiting from the Central Nautical Highway we want Biliran to benefit from the Eastern Nautical Highway. And to strengthen the link between the Strong Republic Nautical Highway and the GEM Corridor -- that’s what we should call your Corridor, Ambassador Kenny -- the, you know, the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu and Tawi-Tawi RO-RO, we should call it the GEM/RO-RO Corridort to link that to the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, I instruct the DPWH to speed up the Siocon-Dapitan Road.
But we must not forget the forerunner of this nautical highways, the old Maharlika road. And we want to fix the old Maharlika road as well so that we have these three routes in our administration and the old route from the olden times. And to make that continue to work, I instruct the DPWH to fast track the Hinabangan-Catbalogan-Calbayog road which is in terrible shape. (applause)
I used to use to that road when I was a senator and have no facility for helicopter or anything like that. It was still pretty good then. But everybody complains to me now about the wear and tear and is in bad shape. But now we have three nautical highways -- Maharlika, Western, Central. Soon, we will have a four -- Eastern. Soon, we will have the lateral routes to connect all of these and, indeed, even now we can see that RO-RO operations have changed the way industries do business.
Just to give a few examples, Nestle, which has a plant in Cagayan de Oro and plantations all over Mindanao, but which feeds breakfast not only to the whole Philippines but to the whole region has kept its milk prices steady despite the worldwide surge in the price of milk before it’s been able... because it’s been able to reduce transport cost because of the RO-RO. So, we thank Nestle for passing on its savings. (applause)
In Dapitan, which I said in the beginning we were practically forcing shipping lines to ply that route, now has nine trips a day. Tourism last year went up by a whopping 200 percent coming through the RO-RO. These are just a couple of examples to say that the ultimate beneficiaries of RO-RO are the people.
Indeed, RO-RO is the fulfillment of our vision based on a strong and growing economy. It is the fulfillment of one of the ten points in my ten-point program that I announced in 2004 that we would link the whole country by transportation and digital infrastructure.
So to all stakeholders today, let us continue to flesh out our vision. Let us continue to keep our sleeves rolled up. Let us continue to join hands. And to the rest of the Philippines -- "Biyahe na, Sakay na!"