Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beyond Appointments: Reorganizing DOTC and DPWH

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The appointment of Sen. Mar Roxas to the position of Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) after the resignation of Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Sec. Ping de Jesus (plus three other DOTC undersecretaries) has given Aquino's party president a strategic post with which to propell his fledging political career. Being in charge with DOTC means, as a columnist put it, being “in charge of huge projects, big-ticket items that have been the milking cow of corrupt individuals in the past.” ZTE-NBN, NAIA Terminal 3, North Luzon Railways Project, SCTEX, RORO, and the STRADCOM controversies clearly come to mind.

DOTC is in fact one of the more strategic agencies in the Philippine bureaucracy, since a "viable, efficient, and dependable transportation and communications systems" are "effective instruments for national recovery and economic progress," as DOTC's wikipage puts it. It is thus not surprising that former Sec. de Jesus' resignation caused some panic on possible political impacts (see this also) of such on Aquino's 1-year old administration, but this is mostly because DOTC is a crucial position to begin with. DOTC's political power derives from its position in the overall narrative of economic development - a behemoth of sorts combining in one agency two widely different sectors: the transportation industry and the communications sector.

Is such a gargantuan creation as DOTC fit to lead us towards economic modernization?

Transportation, Communication Agencies in other countries

Strong Republic Transit System (SRTS)
To answer this question, let us take a look at the transportation and communications portfolio in other countries. In the United States, for example, there is a federal cabinet department called Department of Transportation that is separate from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency under the US Department of Commerce (our counterpart would be the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, formerly headed by Roxas during the Estrada and Arroyo administrations). In United Kingdom, there is a Department for Transport (or DfT) solely responsible for the English transport network and a limited number of transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are not devolved.

But even with our neighbors, transportation and communication departments are separate. In Malaysia, there is a Ministry of Transport and a Ministry of Information, Communiations, and Culture (recently formed from the merger of three separate ministries under Rais Yatim). In Thailand (which can serve as model for us), there is a Ministry of Transport and a Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. These are two separate functions that deserve two organizations and two cabinet heads.

PROPOSAL: Instead of maintaining DOTC in its current form, it is better to follow the lead of other nations and separate the "communications" function with that of "transportation", reorganizing the cabinet in the process. The following steps are recommended:
  1. Split the "Transportation" function with the "Communications" function of the DOTC. 
  2. Split the "Public Works" function with the "Highways" function of the DPWH. The latter can be fused with the transportation function of the DOTC to form a Department of Transportation.
  3. The communications function can then be placed under the proposed Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).
  4. Setup a separate "Department of Public Works", to address the remaining functions, or focus instead on creating a "Department of Water"
The proposal will not seem to far fetch if we are going to review our history here. During the pre-Commonwealth period in 1931, the Philippine Legistature named what was then the Department of Commerce and Communications into the Department of Public Works and Communication (DPWC). By 1935, the colossal DPWC was made to contain the Bureau of Public Works, Ports, Aeronautics, Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Metropolitan Water District Division of Marine, Railway and Repair Shop, National Radio Broadcasting, the Irrigation Council and Board of Examiners for Civil, Mechanical, Chemical and Mining Engineers. This even became bigger in 1951, during the Quirino administration, when DPWC became the  Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications, or DPWTC. This is like our present day DPWH and DOTC combined.

During the Martial Law era, in 1976, DPWTC became the Ministries of Public Works, Transportation and Communications, and Public Highways (MWPTC), but the giant ministry was split into two: Ministry of Public Works (MPW) and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), now renamed as the Department of Transportation and Communications. As for MPW, it was merged with the former Ministry of Public Highways to form was will then be DPWH.

Departments change according to times to effectively serve its mandate. Of course, we can't discount political motivations in the restructuring processes before, but purely politically-motivated actions are more possible in very powerful agencies which have very broad scopes. It is not surprising that the DOTC is involved in lots of questionable projects.

What should be the features of Department of Transportation, DICT, and Department of Public Works (or Department of Water)? We have some ideas on this.

Department of Transportation

This is in fact in line with Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-16's proposal to adopt a comprehensive, long-term National Transport Policy (NTP) which will "guide the restructuring of the transport sector into a well-coordinated and integrated multimodal transport and logistics system" (Chapter 5, page 124). The PDP responded to the "lack of integration between national and local government plans" resulting in gaps in the transport sector and poor quality infrastructure.

It is only logical that roads, bridges, and highways planning be integrated with other modes of transport for a more effective planning process. For instance, people ride RORO in order to access a highway, at the end of which can be a medium-rise parking area (for motor vehicle users) so he can use an elevated railway transit like MRT/LRT. In most countries, airports are outside the metropolis (in order to save space), and is only connected to the city via a high-speed subway/railway, or a dedicated high-speed bus lane. Mobility should be designed in a coherent, comprehensive, and systematic manner, in order to create seamless-ness. On this, former President Arroyo's plan of a Luzon Urban Beltway (one of the four super regions announced in the 6th SONA, see also this) is a good start.

Transportation is an important element in urban planning. In fact, we can even integrate traffic management to the tasks of the Department of Transportation (either it shares this with MMDA or it fully absorbs this task) because traffic flows are a function of the transportation modes and their load capacities. For instance, one could imagine that constructing LRT/MRT extensions is dependent on the assessment of how much economic benefit can be derived from off-loading commuter volume on the road-based transportation versus the cost of construction. On a more practical level, the construction of these railways is often a traffic nuisance (see video below), and leave adjacent roads in need of repair (which is, at the status quo for major roads, is a mandate of DPWH).

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Sidebar I: Department of Information and Communications Technology

The proposal to create a "Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)" has already been floating for some time. In fact, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order No. 269 on January 12, 2004 creating the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) which is independent from DOTC, it is as a transitory measure to the creation of a DICT. CICT absorbed the functions of the Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC), which was abolished through EO 334 on July 20, 2004.

Bills in the Congress have been filed proposing the a DICT, transforming the CICT into a department. A consolidated bill, House Bill No. 4300, was approved on third and final reading on August 5, 2008 and transmitted to the Senate on August 11, 2008. A few days after, a consolidated bill, Senate Bill No. 2546, was approved by the Senate Committee on Science and Technology on August 19, 2008, but did not make it to second reading by the time Congress adjourned session. With this failure, the legal basis of CICT remains to be EO 269, which can be revoked anytime by Aquino.

Senate CR 93

What functions would DICT have? We can start with the current CICT, which is composed of the National Computer Center (NCC), the Telecommunications Office (TELOF), and all other operating units of the DOTC dealing with communications. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Philippine Postal Corporation (PhilPost) were also attached to the CICT for policy coordination. But we can add more. The section of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that is concerned with IT industries, including the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry (given the strategic potential of the BPO industry, see also this and this), can actually be transferred to a DICT if created. This would make sure that the private sector plans for expansion and development is in line with government's own plans for the sector.

DICT is pushed by many sectors, from the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines, Bacolod-Negros Occidental Federation for Information and Communications Technology, to the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines. It is thus mind-boggling that Aquino (see article) and our own Department of Science and Technology (DOST, see related article here) refuses to set it up.

Sidebar II: Department of Water

What are public works besides highways? The DPWH webpage on its mandate lists "(a) the planning of infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, flood control, water resources projects and other public works, and (b) the design, construction, and maintenance of national roads and bridges, and major flood control systems". Taking away roads and bridges, this leaves merely all water related projects - flood control, water resources management and development, and irrigation. This clearly calls for the creation of a separate "Department of Water."

In the status quo, management and development of the Philippine water supply, sanitation, and resources is largely incoherent and is governed by several laws, but there had been two major attempts to consolidate these laws: the 1976 National Water Code and the 2004 Clean Water Act. These laws specify the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as the lead department for implementing water sector legislation, with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) under the DENR being tasked on water resources management. The DPWH provides technical assistance within rural water supply systems, although the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) also has its share of responsibilities in defining and enforcing quality and performance standards even as the Department of Health (DOH) sets national standards for drinking water quality as well as standards concerning sanitation and sewerage collection.

If this doesn't appear to be a mess yet, for financing, the Department of Finance (DoF) takes the lead in financing water policies at the national level, although there is a Local Waterworks and Utilities Administration (LWUA), a specialized lending institution that promotes and oversees the development of provincial waterworks. This is on top of the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) which is also supposed to invest in irrigation development. The summary of all agencies tackling water is listed in this article.

Status of Water Delivery in the Philippines

Thus, a cabinet-level Department of Water similar to that in Western Australia should be considered by the Aquino administration. Several functions have to be integrated, and operations have to be streamlined for more effective intervention. If this is not feasible, the government can also opt to centralize all operations to the NWRB, positioning it as the lead national cabinet-level body charged with all water-related policies. Regional, provincial and municipal NWRB offices must be established for this purpose.

This will necessitate some rationalization processes. Water-related institutions whose mandates duplicate or conflict must be abolished, with other water agencies attached to other departments transferred to NWRB. In particular, the mandate of NAPOCOR and other power generation entities in managing water resources within sites of operation should already be removed with all responsibilities transferred to the lead agency.

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