Albay port congestion worries staff, truckers
ALBAY, Philippines – A strict non-embarkation and disembarkation rule imposed by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Masbate provincial government following the Luzon-wide lockdown has left nearly a hundred truckers and crew stuck for days in a port here, defeating the purpose of avoiding having large groups converge to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus.
On Wednesday, April 8, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Council of Pio Duran raised the alarm: delivery trucks have piled up at the Pio Duran port; 86 drivers and crew are stranded.
Since late March, an average of 50 truckers and helpers stay at the Pio Duran port every day while they wait for their unmanned cargo trucks return from Masbate, said port manager Rey Mendizabal.
One of them was Joel Manalo, a driver whose trailer truck was loaded with 1,000 sacks of rice for a client in Masbate.
Manalo said that they were stuck at the port for three days since March 30. It wasn't a problem sleeping in his truck because he and his truck helpers are used to it, and the port management also allowed them to use the passenger terminal building.
He said that they were able to use the toilets to freshen up. Port personnel attended to their needs such as buying food and other concerns, while their employers sent them money via money remittances.
What worried Manalo and other drivers was having to ship their cargo trucks unmanned because the roll-on, roll-off vessels continued to sail twice a day with only the vehicles on board while the crew are left at the port.
Under the PPA Memorandum Circular No. 10, "PPA-controlled ports shall remain open in the entire duration of the ECQ being imposed in the entire Luzon region, provided that there will be strict 'no embarkation/disembarkation of crew' and subject to the requirements of the Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of Health."
Pio Duran's MDRRMC also said in its Facebook post that the "policy imposed by the Masbate government of disallowing embarkment/boarding of delivery trucks and crews" have resulted in the vehicle congestion at the Pio Duran port.
It said the Masbate policy was "contrary" to the directives of the national and Bicol IATF.
While an executive order from Masbate's provincial government prohibits absolute disembarkation from its port, it was the ship captains or owners that decided not to allow the truckers and helpers on board, said Mendizabal.
"We're worried because we didn't know who would be held accountable if the cargoes are lost and the trucks are damaged," Manalo said.
He tried to ask his contact person in Masbate to send a truck to Pio Duran, so he wouldn't have to ship his truck unmanned, but that didn't push through.
On March 31, Manalo’s rice-loaded truck was shipped to Masbate unmanned. When asked what made him agree, Manalo said "tiwala na lang." (I just had to trust.)
Finally, Manalo was able to leave the port for Manila before Saturday, April 4.
Worried port staff
The number of cargo drivers and helpers is expected to increase following the recent change in the Inter-Agency Task Force guidelines which exempts deliveries of essential goods from checkpoints, said Mendizabal.
Among them were the 16 drivers and helpers who reside in Masbate but couldn't go home, said Mendizabal.
On March 24, he raised this unintended effect of the non-embarkation and disembarkation rule with the port's acting services division manager, Dennis Popatco.
In his correspondence with Popatco, Mendizabal was asking for urgent attention on the port situation adding that it is "proper & necessary for the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to address or resolve the matter ASAP considering that it involves two provinces (Albay & Masbate) and that govt regional offices concerned are well represented and consulted in said body (Bicol IATF)."
For Mendizabal, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) would be able to compel vessels to sail with the truck drivers and helpers on board and therefore, lessen the number of people held at the Pio Duran port.
Truckers and helpers should also be able to secure health certificates from their ports of origin because the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has made them a prerequisite for vessels bound for Masbate.
The Pio Duran port has a maximum capacity of 30 trucks and 300 persons for the terminal building.
With the expected surge of truckers and their helpers, Mendizabal is not the only one worried about the congestion but the port's staff, as well.
"I hope this gets solved soon, especially that the Pio Duran port has become like a quarantine area," one port employee, said, requesting anonymity.
The employee added that not everyone at the port has face masks and some fail to observe hygiene and cleanliness.
And most importantly, the more people are there at the port, the harder it would be to practice physical distancing.
"It’s hard for everyone, including us frontliners who would get the ire of locals and its leaders due to overcrowding,” Mendizabal said. – Rappler.com