By GENALYN D. KABILING

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — Following the launching of the Central Nautical Highway, President Arroyo yesterday directed officials to hasten the completion of the new Eastern Nautical Highway by next year.

The President asked the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to prepare the eventual “lateral” interconnection of all three nautical highways in the western, central, and eastern seaboards.

Mrs. Arroyo issued several directives to fasttrack the infrastructure projects that would complement the Strong Republic Nautical Highway as she closed the three-day sea caravan that launched the nautical highway linking the provinces in the central Philippines or the Visayas.

“I now instruct the DoTC to work on the Eastern Nautical Highway,” she said during the 2nd Strong Republic Nautical Highway conference in Cagayan de Oro City.

“To my map, the Eastern Nautical Highway will begin in Pilar, Sorsogon — that is why we have to fix the road — through Masbate to Naval in Biliran to Leyte Island and on to Surigao del Sur,” she added.

To complement the Eastern Nautical Highway, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the DPWH to rehabilitate roads in the Pan-Philippine or Maharlika Highway linking Samar to Luzon, particularly the Hinabangan-Catbalogan-Calbayog portion, which is now in a “terrible shape.”

“I used to use to that road when I was a senator and have no facility for helicopter or anything like that. It was still pretty good then. But everybody complains to me now about the wear and tear and is in bad shape,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the urgent rehabilitation of the Siocon-Dapitan Road, saying Biliran would be included in the Eastern Nautical Highway route.

To connect all these nautical highways, the President disclosed government plans to establish soon “lateral routes” to facilitate faster sea transportation of goods and services across the archipelago.

She said that the RORO (roll on, roll off) transport network, which was inaugurated in 2003, have changed the way industries do business in the country.

Mrs. Arroyo noted that Nestlé Philippines, which has a plant here and plantations all over Mindanao, has kept its milk prices steady despite the worldwide surge in the price of milk. “Because it has been able to reduce transport cost because of the RORO. So, we thank Nestlé for passing on its savings.”

She said tourism receipts in 2007 increased by “a whopping 200 percent” through the RORO transport system.

“Indeed, RORO is the fulfillment of our vision based on a strong and growing economy. It is the fulfillment of one of the ten points in my ten-point program that I announced in 2004 that we would link the whole country by transportation and digital infrastructure,” she said.

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