By Ernesto Hilario | Businessmirror Philippines | February 10, 2014

WHAT’S going on at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) under the Aquino administration?

Well, if we’re to go by the department’s glacial work pace, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya does not seem to be in a great hurry to get things done.

In fact, from where we stand, we don’t see any single major accomplishment in the past three-and-a-half years that the DOTC can rightfully claim.

What it has been doing all this time since July 2010 has been to conduct feasibility studies. Yes, study what projects should be undertaken by the government. These never-ending feasibility studies cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pesos, yet they remain plans that gather dust in the DOTC offices.

But it’s really unfair to say that the DOTC top brass are merely sitting on their big, fat posteriors and doing nothing. In fact, they have been conducting biddings left and right for various projects. These biddings invariably end up as failures, for one reason or another.

Take, for instance, the project to extend Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 from Monumento to North Avenue to link it with Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3. The previous administration completed the project in early 2010, but the central station that would link LRT 1 with MRT 3 and the proposed MRT 7 has not been built. Neither has the automated fare-collection system for both railway networks been put in place up to now.

The purchase of additional coaches for MRT 3 to solve its acute congestion problem has not materialized, either.

No new airports anywhere have been completed in the past three-and-a-half years, with the renovation of the world’s worst airport—Ninoy Aquino International Airport—having barely started.

Remember the proposed LRT 1 Extension from Baclaran to Cavite province, worth P64.9 billion? Forget it. It’s not going to happen soon.

And how about the P62.7-billion MRT 7 project from North Triangle in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan province that was approved, in principle, by the National Economic and Develepment Authority so many years ago? Forget that, too. At the rate the DOTC is going, this project will not even get a single millimeter of railroad track in place by the end of President Aquino’s term in 2016.

Abaya may have studied management at Harvard University, but it appears that he has not imbibed the management expertise that’s needed to accelerate this administration’s transport-infrastructure programs, or even make it proceed at the proverbial snail’s pace. He simply has to make it move.

We can understand that P-Noy wants to pursue the daang matuwid (straight path) and to stop corruption. But the daang matuwid also means that taxpayers’ money should be wisely spent on vital infrastructure projects. As things now stand, the daang matuwid seems to be the rationale for the criminal inefficiency and gross incompetence of the DOTC.

Downtown Manila needs urgent face-lift

I’M glad there is an ongoing effort to rehabilitate Manila’s Binondo district, said to be the biggest and oldest Chinatown outside of China. The plan calls for getting rid of crisscrossing overhead electrical wires on the streets, scrubbing the grime off the facades of buildings and introducing Chinese decorative elements. The plan also includes proposals to build a “vendors’ paradise” and parking structures over existing esteros, or estuaries.

Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada of Manila has organized the Manila Chinatown Development Council to oversee the renewal of Binondo and develop it as a tourist destination. The council has proposed that building owners could use Chinese characters on signs; introduce Chinese décor and architectural elements, such as red paper lanterns and roof tiles; and use the colors red, emperor yellow and green.

The proposal also includes the construction of parking structures and vending stalls over the Tetuan and San Fernando esteros. Vehicular traffic would also be rerouted to make Ongpin Street pedestrian-friendly and attract more visitors to do walking tours of the area.

All these are well and good, and deserve the support of the Chinese-Filipino community and even the national government. But I’d like to suggest to Estrada to refurbish rundown Quiapo and Santa Cruz districts in downtown Manila, as well, so they can, at least, be pleasant to look at.

Like in Binondo, the heritage buildings in Quiapo and Santa Cruz should be restored to their former glory to set an example to other building owners who have simply allowed their properties to go to ruin.

Perhaps, the owner of the decrepit Times Theater across the Quiapo Church can be persuaded to, at least, repaint the building, if not repurpose it altogether, so that it stands out as a model of urban renewal. And while we’re at it, the crumbling building at the corner of Quezon Boulevard and Recto Avenue going to Divisoria should be demolished outright, for it is a big eyesore at this point. But first, Erap should move to relocate the Manila City Jail, so that the entire Quiapo area can set the pace for urban redevelopment in Manila.