To invoke the sense of singleness of geography and love of country, parents used to call their first born child with variants of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, hence, Luzvimin.  We ought to think along the same lines.

Factors that determine our total comfort as travelers, road users and as citizens. This column’s readers by now can sense that I write with a mission to raise our social and economic development. Tourism on my part is but a by-product of my rather adventurous spirit to discover things at the ground level.

The sum total of our collective experience as travellers could stand immense improvement, but this would depend on the inter-play of many factors.

Local political leaders and their efforts to get a share of the nation’s resources. The regions that enjoy the highest degree of improvement in their infrastructure have leaders who continuously fight for a share of the nation’s budgetary and planning resources.

The citizen’s control point here is the ballot. In a democracy, voters know the ineffective, corrupt and inept leaders, and they can kick them out.

Local political leaders (congressman, provincial governors and city mayors) can directly enlarge their share from the limited budget that the nation generates from year-to-year.

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These leaders actively learn and study the processes of government and often work with the national leadership to help the nation achieve its development targets and programs. They try to put their regions within the context of development programs being undertaken at the center of political power.

Money won’t come as gift from heaven. The most hard-working among them get their share of resources to expand the local and regional infrastructure: to extend, widen, and improve quality of roads and their central government’s economic services.

Effective local leaders learn the processes of government and of governance quickly. They use what they learn to advantage, with keen sense of timing and opportunity. Most regional projects get their imprimatur through the regional development councils of NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) and they attend and interact with these. RDCs (Regional Development Councils) can get national attention in the councils of government. The local governments can then help to fast-track their infrastructure schedules.

Improved governance within the implementing agency.   The quality of management of the principal department dealing with the task of building roads and other public works is an enabler.

President Aquino apparently made a good choice in Secretary Rogelio Singson of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways). Singson instituted important reforms in the contracting model of the agency, as well as in management to improve efficiencies in road building and maintenance.

These days the quality of the private public works contractors is much better. Those chosen have the capacity to deliver. The exceptions that exist tarnish the agency’s image. Operational problems continue to afflict: defective engineering designs on specific road stretches, serious effects of weather, and natural calamities like earthquakes.

There are still some abominably poor engineering districts. Sometimes, such cases might be due to political factors outside of the control of key government administrators and sometimes, due to agency personnel problems.

The relatively good record of road construction by DPWH engineering districts has to be judged by standards of past history. Accomplishments still fall short of what we find in highly developed countries. The quality of performance of our engineering districts can tell us easily where the incompetents or the bad contracts need improvements.

Examples: (a) Passers-by in northern Samar road today would immediately see how bad the repairs are coming along. Long stretches of road are being broken in parts by workers with very poor equipment complements. (b) Or one could easily compare how the General Santos City (South Cotabato) engineering district performs with poorer administration in the Sarangani end. (c) Testimonials on good roads are only as good as three years, given wear and tear and conditions of use.

Congested RoRo ports. Some of the RoRo ports are highly congested. Since oftentimes one port connects to the other, the remedies on port congestion have to be addressed as pairs of ports.

Matnog’s port (Sorsogon), a main port of exit from Luzon, is highly congested. This is true both for the passenger terminal and for holding position for parked vehicles waiting to board. So much of the limited port passenger terminal is rented out, crowding out weary travellers awaiting their transfer. The vehicle holding area is congested too, even though it has been enlarged and improved relatively recently. The holding area for vehicles outside the port is hemmed in by uncontrolled residential housing outside of the port.

Congestion leads to great inconvenience. Lining up vehicles in stationary position for hours is a most trying experience, but that is the common fate of ports. What tries our patience is the highly cramped parking space to hold vehicles in queue during peak periods. And traffic will increase.

This is just one example. Though some roro port investments have been planned, some of those prepared by the previous administration (Macapagal Arroyo) had been held up, scrapped or suspended by the current. Politics still plays an ugly role in major public investment improvements.

In the past, I have suffered extreme inconvenience awaiting transfer to the Ro-Ro ship in ports of Matnog, Liloan (Leyte), and Calapan (Mindoro) that would have tested the patience of Job. Qeueing is in the nature of road travel by RoRo. Waiting and queuing are landmark trials of patience and perseverance.

For public safety: modernize the RoRo fleets. The regulatory agencies – both Marina (Maritime Authority) and the PPA (Philippine Port Authority) – should adopt policies that encourage or require shipping companies to replace their fleets. The safety of the travelling public should be foremost. They can take a cue from the success achieved in making public bus transport vehicles better looking and newer.

Most of the ships used in the interisland trade and in the RoRo trade were acquired as second hand ships, most of them about to be junked in countries such as Japan and Korea. Not a few of these have figured in marine disasters.

As a major shipbuilding country, the building of domestic interisland vessels and their refurbishing should be a program that can raise the national economic effort. It should also instill pride in what we can do.