By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

A TRUCKERS’ GROUP on Monday expressed alarm over the plan to close a portion of Roxas Boulevard, as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) rehabilitates a damaged drainage structure that could take two to three months, saying this would badly affect business.

At the same time, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport) urged the authorities to consider other ways to repair the damaged structure without implementing full closure of the southbound lane of Roxas Boulevard.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benjamin “Benhur” de Castro Abalos, Jr. said in a statement that among the possible solutions being eyed is “for the container vans to be carried on the barge and will be transported from MICT (Manila International Container Terminal) going to the Cavite Gateway Terminal in Tanza, Cavite.”

The MMDA said the rehabilitation of the damaged Libertad Drainage Main Box Culvert in front of Libertad Pumping Station in Pasay City requires the immediate closure of the southbound portion of Roxas Boulevard.

“Approximately 1,000 cargo trucks and trailers per day are traversing the Roxas Boulevard southbound direction alone,” it said in a statement.

In a phone interview, Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines President Maria B. Zapata said this is worrisome, as some operators using the road, with 10,000 units of trucks, could be affected.

Kung ang lahat ng kargamento going to Cavite is via a barge na, nasan na ’yung negosyo ng trucking? Eh di wala na, hindi ba? Pinapatay nila ’yung hanapbuhay ng truckers (If all the cargo going to Cavite will be done via barge, what will happen to the trucking business? It will be gone, right? They are killing the livelihood of truckers),” she said.

She said the DPWH and the MMDA informed them about the planned road closure before Christmas.

Instead of full closure, Ms. Zapata said the group is urging the DPWH and MMDA to allow the use of part of the northbound lanes.

“Our suggestion is ’yung northbound na apat na lanes ay baka naman pwedeng gawing two lanes ’yung papuntang south, at dalawa papuntang north para at least may outlet para naman hindi ma-congest ’yung papuntang South Superhighway (Our suggestion is for two out of the four northbound lanes to be used as southbound lanes, so there would be no congestion going to South Superhighway),” she added.

For its part, the MMDA said Mr. Abalos has “yet to determine if a portion of the southbound direction of Roxas Boulevard fronting HK Sun Plaza will be totally or partially closed.”

“The structural integrity is at stake. Hence, we are appealing for the public’s understanding of the inconvenience the road closure would cause. This is temporary. The construction is only for three months,” Mr. Abalos said.

Ms. Zapata said the truckers’ group wants to further discuss the matter with the Metro Manila Council of the MMDA. The council is composed of Metro Manila mayors and representatives from government agencies, including the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and DPWH.

In a separate phone interview, Philexport President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said: “There must be a better way than closing it… Can you imagine we are trying to recover, andami-daming problema at isasara mo (we have so many problems and then you close it)… There must be other ways of doing it without having to close it.”

“They should present a narrative of what has to be done, what are the pros and cons, and what are the other options,” he added.

DPWH South Manila district engineer Mikunug D. Macud said in a phone interview that the project should really be implemented as soon as possible.

“The project is P67 million, pero kung meron pang (but if there’s) additional request na  another P40 million, so more or less nasa P100 million,” he said, referring to the project cost.

Mr. Macud also expressed doubt that the total closure would be implemented considering the current situation of transporting goods during the pandemic. However, total closure would mean the rehabilitation of the structure would be done by first week of March, he added.

He said the DPWH is hoping to start work by the first week of January.

He also stressed that the concerns of truckers will be taken into consideration.