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Subic airport adds to infrastructure push

BusinessWorld Online

THE GOVERNMENT is pursuing plans to revive the Subic Bay International Airport before the second quarter of next year, the state Transport chief said in a press briefing on Wednesday where other economic managers reiterated the commitment to push major infrastructure projects despite current delays.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said that his department has been in “serious talks with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)… already to buhayin ‘yung airport (revive the airport).”

“The way I see it, I think sa tamang panahon magiging operational… siguro hindi aabutin ng first or second quarter next year (it is time to make the airport operational… maybe before the first or second quarter),” Mr. Tugade said in a media briefing in New Clark City in Tarlac.

He cited the need to upgrade the airport’s safety equipment as a primary task.

“If you give life to the airport, which has been inoperable for a number of years, you have to look at the structure. The problem is the aviation instrument component… (so) that the airplane will land in a safe basis,” said Mr. Tugade, who first bared the intention to revive the airport in late 2016 after President Rodrigo R. Duterte assumed office.

The Subic Bay International Airport was FedEx’s Asia delivery hub before that facility closed down in 2009.

SBMA in April announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) during the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition 2018 on April 17 in Shanghai, China to develop the airport “for business aviation.” Under that MoU, AsBAA will help develop the airport’s infrastructure “as well as assist in operations at the airport, while offering business aviation services in the Philippines through Subic.”

SBMA had quoted its chairman and administrator, Wilma T. Eisma, as saying she wanted Subic’s airport — which has been one of the facilities considered to help decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila — to focus on business and general aviation; maintenance, repair and overhaul services; and charter flights, leaving passenger aviation to Clark International Airport.

The national government has been moving to decongest Metro Manila by developing Clark and Subic freeport areas and improving links between these sites. In April, the National Economic and Development Authority approved the P50-billion 71.13-kilometer railway project that will connect Subic Bay Freeport Zone to Clark Freeport Zone.

In the same briefing yesterday, economic managers assured that the government has been pulling all stops to speed up infrastructure development now that the administration is approaching its halfway point.

Addressing the observation that official development assistance (ODA) financing has not been as prompt as initially hoped, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III acknowledged that foreign governments’ “procedures can be tedious and long, but it is required by the citizens of that country because it is their money.”

“So we just have to live with that. That is a requirement all over the world… That it is the requirement of the people themselves through their legislators that makes the projects take a long time,” he added.

“I’m not making any excuses. We’re going as fast as we can.”

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia earlier said that China-funded projects have not been moving as fast as those bankrolled by Japan. “Japan just made their project processing fast and sure…” Mr. Pernia said.

Mr. Dominguez said that the government has been meeting with its Japanese and Chinese counterparts once every four months to address implementation backlogs.

Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark A. Villar said that civil works for the China-funded Estrella-Pantaleon and Binondo-Intramuros bridges will be “starting in July,” while the Chico River Pump Irrigation project will start later this year.

STILL FASTER
Asked whether the government will shift to private sector funding if ODA-funded projects will continue to be delayed, Mr. Dominguez replied: “You know the PPP (public-private partnership) is also very long.”

“We’ve done a study on how long PPP is: from project submission to start of the project is 30 months.”

He even noted that one private sector-funded project was delayed for 60 months after proponents filed lawsuits against each other.

Mr. Dominguez said the government will still proceed with the hybrid-PPP procurement model where government or ODA funding will kick-start the project while the private sector will be tapped for operation and maintenance.

“Our method of using our financing is working, is faster,” he insisted.

“So again, you know, it’s not as fast as many would wish, but we are pushing ahead. It’s moving forward quickly.”

Mr. Dominguez also took note of certain proponents seeking revenue guarantees from the government in some PPP contracts in the past.

“The banks like that because they take no risk. I think if you’re the private sector, you should take a risk to make your profit,” he said.

“Don’t ask the government to take away the risk component… why charge a higher rate to users if the financing cost is higher than ours. There’s a hidden guarantee all the time… why should there be a profit if there’s no risk?”

BUILDING THE STATE’S ASSET BASE
Moreover, the Finance chief said that government-led projects could be privatized in the future to raise revenues.

“While we are doing all these projects ourselves, the government is building up asset base that is going to be very large,” the Finance chief said.

“Future governments that may need money can privatize them. We can afford to do it now.”

ODA-financed projects aren’t only the ones facing backlogs, with Mr. Tugade saying that Surigao airport’s rehabilitation and the Light Rail Transit (LRT)-1 extension project have been slightly delayed.

“We’re trying to do a catch-up plan so that the improvement and the renovation in Surigao will come in a reasonable time… It’s a little bit delayed because the fund was supposed to come from another agency so we had to wait,” Mr. Tugade said.

“The LRT-1 Baclaran-Bacoor plan, we have targeted it to be completed and operational by 2021,” the Transport chief added.

“Starting actual construction is a bit delayed now, but we’re doing a catch-up with the local government units involved and hopefully we can still meet 2021.”

‘ALL OF US ARE IMPATIENT’
Bases Conversion and Development Authority President Vivencio B. Dizon, for his part, said: “All of us are impatient.”

“But I can tell you the most impatient person who really wants to get things done as fast as possible for everybody is the President of the Philippines. So we understand the impatience and this is because of neglect of past governments,” Mr. Dizon claimed.

“You’re going to see things progress even faster as we go through the next months.”

The Cabinet officials presented to journalists yesterday the site of the 40-hectare New Clark City Government Administrative Center Phase 1 that will house satellite offices of all the branches of the government.

The center will have a one-stop-shop “Business Continuity Center,” a disaster risk and recovery center and a sports complex that will be the venue for the 2019 South East Asian games which are all expected to become operational before 2020. — E. J. C. Tubayan

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