Uygongco’s private port

It was only two weeks ago that I discovered there’s a private port now operating offshore of Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City. I was talking with Atty. Eduardo Jalbuna, who is the lawyer for cement and hotel entrepreneur Boy So (of the La Carmela de Boracay fame), about the congestion at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex in Barangay Loboc.

This congestion was made apparent during a trip by pumpboat to Buenavista, Guimaras recently. I saw three or four foreign vessels laying at anchor on the Guimaras Strait. I have heard about importers hurting badly from the demurrage they have to pay to owners of chartered vessels for delays in unloading their cargo. Owners of chartered vessels also don’t like making Iloilo a port of call because their schedules are turned topsy-turvy.

Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

Definitely such a situation does not augur well for Iloilo City, especially as it now positions itself as the new hub for trade and commerce in Central Philippines. And the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is fully aware of this handicap of the ICPC being inadequate for the city’s growing needs for shipping. If Iloilo City wants to become a major player for the export market, its port facilities should be upgraded to accommodated more and bigger ships.

As far back as 20 years ago, I have heard PPA talk about building a longer berthing pier and reclaiming land for cargo handling at the ICPC. But it’s obvious its efforts to achieve that goal has fallen behind the growth of cargo ship traffic. The number of vessels laying at anchor and charging demurrage to importers is enough proof of that. That failure directly affects the ability of the city to fulfill its potential. It cannot grow fast enough without bigger and better port facilities.

ships at anchor off iloilo port

Foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for berthing space to be vacated at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex. Each day that these ships wait at anchor cost shippers demurrage charges of $2,500 per day of delay.

Hence, the construction of this private port by La Filipina Uygongco is detrimental to the interest of Iloilo City’s economy. What is objectionable isn’t the fact that the flour maker built its own port; it has every right to do that. But building it in the expansion area for the ICPC is what makes it wrong. The private port is sitting right on where the expansion of the ICPC should be.

The PPA has a lot of explaining to do on this issue. My sources told me that Uygongco has long attempted to get a certificate of no objection from PPA, but was always turned down. Then, in 2014, somebody so powerful in the Aquino administration twisted arms at the PPA to force its top management to drop its objection to the private port. It’s that simple. A powerful politician who claims he wants Iloilo City to grow and prosper is also the same person who thwarted it.

I have asked the DENR to provide me with a copy of the Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) that would give it authority to build the private port in the foreshore area. My sources told me the MLA application is still pending approval. If this is true, then why did the Uygongco flour company just go ahead and build the private port? That’s putting the horse ahead of the cart. And that would put PPA officials involved in the grant of a permit to operate (temporary) in deep, deep trouble.