RCEP trade ministers set to conclude world’s mega trade deal

MANILA—Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez reported that the recent meeting of the trade ministers of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) participating countries resolved almost all remaining outstanding issues of the trade deal.  

During the virtual 8th RCEP Intersessional Ministerial Meeting (8th RCEP MM) held on 27 August 2020, the trade ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its five partners—namely, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea—, advanced significantly the negotiation, which paves the way to its signing in November 2020.  

“While there were many challenges along the way, we kept our focus on the value and importance of RCEP and the merit of fostering regional cooperation,” Sec. Lopez said.  

He added: “The conclusion of RCEP negotiation is a good symbol that notwithstanding the current pandemic, many great things can be accomplished, such as the affirmation of an international rules-based system for trade and investment in the region.”  

Launched in November 2012, RCEP is an initiative by ASEAN to encourage trade among its member states and its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners. Without India, RCEP accounts for 30% of the world’s global population at 2.2 billion and 28.2% of the global GDP at a combined USD23.9 trillion, much larger than other regional trading blocs.  

The bloc would also account for 27.8% of the total trade at USD10.5 trillion, with USD5.5 trillion in exports and USD4.9 trillion in imports, and contribute to 23.6% of global inward foreign direct investment (FDI) and 33.5% of global outward (FDI).  

“With RCEP, enhanced market access for trade and investment will be established. This means that the Philippines can improve its export competitiveness in key products—such as garments, automotive parts, and agricultural products like canned food and preserved fruits—while encouraging more investments in the country in vital sectors such as research and development, financial services, game development, and IT-BPO,” said lead negotiator Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty.  

Sec. Lopez added: “RCEP is a major milestone for the region and its partners, and is definitely more comprehensive than any FTA of ASEAN.”  

Notwithstanding the significant progress of the negotiations, the trade ministers remained open to the participation of India in RCEP.  

Meanwhile, the Trade Secretary also cited that the momentous trade deal, poised to be signed by November this year, will have major impact on jobs for the Filipino people and the enhanced participation of MSMEs in the global value chain.  

“We are optimistic for the future of the country as we are set to conclude a historic milestone, especially in this time of crisis and the region’s post-pandemic recovery,” Sec. Lopez said. END  

18 August 2020

PRI Continues Training Online Amid COVID-19

MANILA – Amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Philippine Railways Institute (PRI) continues with its training support to the country’s railway industry by offering its Refresher Training (RT) course in an online platform.

Since its launch in July 2020, the Web Refresher Training (WRT) Course has accommodated railway operators in lieu of the usual face-to-face RT Course.

The conduct of a face-to-face RT Course was restricted following the enforcement of the community quarantine in March 2020, coupled with strict physical distancing policies set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Although in an online environment, the PRI, using the same training design and materials, still aims to build the capacity of Philippine railway personnel, with further emphasis on railway safety and passenger satisfaction, especially with the present heightened rules forced by COVID-19 on the transportation sector.

Since its pilot run in October 2019, five (5) batches with 116 certified personnel have completed the scheduled RT Course.

The PRI is a research and training center for the railway sector under the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

It serves as the planning, implementing, regulating, and administrative entity for the development of human resources in the railway sector to ensure the delivery of efficient, reliable, and safe railway transportation services.

The PRI also ensures that personnel working in each railway line have the right knowledge, skills, and attitude for operations and maintenance through the issuance of certificates of competencies.

The establishment of the PRI is supported by a ¥670-million grant from the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, in addition to a ¥1.2-billion grant for train simulators.

The PRI and its complete range of best-in-class training equipment will soon be housed in a seven (7)-hectare training center at the Valenzuela Depot of the Metro Manila Subway.

With the training center’s completion, the PRI shall offer Fundamental Training (FT) Courses to personnel of new and expanded railway lines to establish an industry-level understanding of railway operations and maintenance.


05 August 2020

DOTr implements mandatory use of face shields for all passengers using public transportation

MANILA – All passengers using any mode of public transportation will be required to wear face shields, aside from face masks, effective 15 August 2020, as mandated by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

In a Memorandum Circular released on 04 August 2020, the DOTr, through its Administrative Service, has ordered all officials and heads of its various transportation sectors to enjoin, within their respective jurisdictions, the mandatory wearing of face shields for all passengers in areas where public transportation is allowed.

The initiative aims to further reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in public transport facilities as health authorities have pointed out that the use of face shields and masks reduces exposure to and emission of respiratory droplets considerably.

“Sa mga kababayan ’ho natin, huwag sana nating isipin na panibagong gastusin o dagdag abala ang pag-require natin sa paggamit ng face shield. Let us remember that no amount of protection is too much when it comes to health and safety, especially that we are battling an invisible enemy. What we are addressing is not a transport issue but rather a health issue. Kaya nga ‘ho  hinihingi ko ang kooperasyon ng bawat isa,” DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade said.

The directive applies to all public transportation throughout the country, involving the Aviation and Airports, Railways, Road, and Maritime sectors.

“Ipatutupad po natin ang mandatong ito sa lahat ng pampublikong sasakyan tulad ng sa mga tren, bus, jeepney, taxi, passengers vessels at maging sa eroplano. I will not elaborate more on the practical benefits the face shield offers, but we know that the use of face coverings and masks for superior protection is adopted widely,” DOTr Undersecretary for Administrative Affairs Artemio Tuazon Jr. stressed.

Further, Usec. Tuazon clarifies that the face shield to be used should sufficiently cover the nose and mouth.

“Mayroon po kasing mga tinatawag na visor, goggles, o ‘yung iba pang protective eyewear that only encloses the eye area. We advise that our passengers use the ones that cover the whole face. It’s actually meant as a redundancy of the protection of the face mask,” Usec. Tuazon adds.

Meanwhile, stringent preventive measures are still in effect to contain the spread of COVID-19 in all public transport facilities. These include the mandatory wearing of face mask, strict enforcement of the social distancing measure, and handwashing or hand sanitizing. Talking and using mobile phones are likewise discouraged inside all public transportation.


5 August 2020

TRB declares South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) Toll Road 5 and Pasig River Expressway projects as toll road projects

MANILA — The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), an agency under the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has declared the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) Toll Road 5 and Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) projects as toll road projects.

In a TRB resolution dated 29 June 2020, the two road projects were declared as toll roads upon the request of, and based on the proposal submitted by the joint venture (JV) of the Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) and San Miguel Holdings Corporation (SMHC).

With the declaration of the two (2) projects as toll roads, the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the TRB, composed of representatives from the DOTr, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Finance (DOF), and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), as well as the private sector, is now in discussion with the Joint Venture on the technical, financial, and legal details of the 2 projects that will lead to the finalization of the concession agreement.

“The PNCC-SMHC Joint Venture requested that government recognize the 2 projects as toll road project. These have their respective basic design plan. The TRB has given an instruction to the TWG to discuss the details of the project with the JV that will be the basis of the concession agreements. We are also waiting for the JV to submit certain requirements,” TRB Executive Director Sales said.

Construction of the two projects is being eyed to start within the remaining two years of the Duterte administration,” added the TRB Executive Director.

Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1112 mandates the TRB to supervise, monitor and regulate the construction, operation and maintenance of toll facilities as well as the rates that may be charged therefrom.

The TR5 is a 4-lane divided toll road that starts from the terminal point of the SLEx TR4 Project at Barangay Mayao, Lucena City in Quezon, and ends at Matnog, Sorsogon, near the Matnog Ferry Terminal. The toll road is approximately 420-kilometers long, and will be composed of eight (8) segments and a total of 28 interchanges:

• Segment 1 (Lucena to Gumaca) – 61 kilometers

• Segment 2 (Gumaca to Tagkawayan) – 58.60 kms.

• Segment 3 (Tagkawayan to Sipocot) – 61.40 kms.

• Segment 4 (Sipocot to Naga City) – 39.50 kms.

• Segment 5 (Naga City to Polangui) – 45.90 kms.

• Segment 6 (Polangui to Legaspi City) – 33.60 kms.

• Segment 7 (Legaspi City to Sorsogon)- 57.70 kms.

• Segment 8 (Sorsogon to Matnog) – 62.30 kms.

The project has an estimated cost of P22.6-B (for Segment 1 only) and has an implementation period of 24 months (for Segment 1 only).

Through its legislative franchise, PNCC has the authority to construct, maintain and operate the South Luzon Expressway and Skyway Stages 1, 2, 3 and all extensions, linkages or stretches from any part of the existing toll roads.

Also declared as a toll road project, the proposed 19.365 km PAREX aims to connect Manila with the province of Rizal with a 6-lane elevated expressway that will traverse the entirety of the Pasig River.

The PAREX, which is also a joint agreement project between the PNCC and the SMHC, starts from Radial Road 10 in Manila and will end at a connection to the South East Metro Manila Expressway at Circumferential Road 6 (C6).

According to the TRB, the project will connect and utilize a 2.7-kilometer portion of the Skyway Stage 3 from Nagtahan to Plaza Azul.

Once completed, PAREX will be composed of three segments:

• Segment 1 (R-10 to Plaza Azul) – 5.74 kilometers.

• Plaza Azul to San Juan River (MMSS3) – 2.70 kms.

• Segment 2 (San Juan River to C5 Intersection) – 7.325 kms.

• Segment 3 (C5 Intersection – C6 Intersection)- 6.30 kms.

The project, which was earlier approved in principle by members of the TRB Board, has an estimated project cost of P95.413-billion. Its estimated project implementation period is 36 months.