Do Ports Really Spur Investment?

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When I first saw Kiwalan Cove east of Iligan City I was amazed. In its placid waters lay about 20 ships of various types and sizes, either anchored silently in the water or lashed to its dozen or more piers and wharves where some kind of activity is taking place. To a person like me who grew in the inland plains of Bicol imagining a dozen or so piers in a 5-kilometer stretch is unimaginable. Yes, I have seen a private port in the shape of Legazpi Oil’s wharves in Legazpi City. But I thought being the biggest copra exporter then in the world should have one especially since the old Legazpi port can no longer dock the bigger ships due to its shallow berth. Along my growing up years I always associated ports as government ports.

Chugging along barangay Recodo in Zamboanga City a few years later I saw three fish canneries lined up one after the other, each having their own pier. And right by them exists the biggest shipyard in Mindanao with over a dozen ships moored, beached or drydocked in various phases of completion, repair or refurbishing.

From Davao City going to Panabo City a sight similar to Kiwalan Cove is present. Several private piers can be found along the way with foreign and local ships docked. The government-owned Sasa port is one of the biggest in the country but I found out that two private ports are even bigger and busier than Sasa.

And, I didn’t know then that private ferry ports existed. But I saw my first when Daima Shipping constructed their private wharf in Mukas, Tubod, the capital of Lanao del Norte to service their RO-ROs crossing the Panguil Bay to Ozamis City, a move later matched by the Millenium Shipping of the Floirendos. Later, the government-owned pier in Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte died because of this.

Riding my first Mindanao to Bicol bus ride I came to know that the two ferry terminals being used in Allen, Northern Samar by RO-ROs crossing to Matnog, Sorsogon are private and owned by the RO-RO companies. The government-owned ferry port in San Isidro, Northern Samar lay unused and closed.

In my travels all over Mindanao I have seen the same pattern repeated, in a minor or major scale–private piers sprouting in places which is no longer within the city proper. I began to ask the question why. The answer I got is, “They (the companies) will buy where land is cheap and they will just construct their own pier and no longer go through the government-owned port; saves them handling and berthing costs.”

That’s when I suspected that the spiel I heard in Bicol that we need to put up government-owned piers to spur investment is probably just a mirage. A company will locate to a place simply because there is a reason for them to (for example the availability of cheap electricity like in Iligan City or the abundance of fish like in Zamboanga City). It is not the presence of a pier that will convince them to invest. After all it might not even use the government-owned pier.

Recently, three mining operations were highlighted because of some sectors’ complaints. In Catanduanes, Homonhon Island and Agusan del Norte these was strip-mining of the beaches for ores that will be transported for smelting in China. It struck me that those places don’t even have government-owned piers. The mining companies were just using shallow-bottomed powered barges to load their cargo.

So, it seems the explanation I heard is Mindanao is probably right.

[The ports shown above are not government-owned port.]

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