Ramon Ang’s airport
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2014 - 12:00am

I am glad that Ramon Ang is reviving his airport project for Metro Manila. The last time I talked to him, he didn’t even want to discuss it. That was so sharply in contrast to his excitement over a year ago when he showed me and Cito Beltran plans and drawings and promised ground breaking in 12 months.

Those close to him say that RSA was just being careful. I think he sensed that there are those in DOTC who do not welcome offers to build airports from the private sector. 

I got that feeling too when I sat down for coffee with DOTC usec Timmy Limcaoco and I asked him about an offer from a local hotel group to build an airport in Busuanga that can take in larger aircraft. The private group was building a world class hotel and recreation facility in Coron and is understandably interested in bringing in more tourists than can be handled by the current airstrip.

Well, usec Timmy said they have already budgeted for an improved airport in Busuanga. He said in so many words, they would rather build it than allow a private sector group to do it. He said it would be easier that way because the project is already approved and a new proposal will have to go through the mill again.

I have my doubts, given DOTC’s track record, that they could build a suitable airport in Busuanga faster than the private sector group. They haven’t even been able to move in the airport projects identified early in P-Noy’s watch as vital to the country’s ambitious tourism program.

For example, Bohol. Last Tuesday, I got this text message from my friend, Ed Yap: “All passengers including our party of five aboard PAL 773 for Tagbilaran scheduled to depart 9:20 a.m. but stuck on tarmac. Takeoff reset to 10 then 11 a.m. because Tagbilaran airport has only one slot daw so can accommodate only one flight at a time with 30 minutes separation while four airlines are flying there. It’s indeed more fun in the Phl… stuck inside plane with interminable wait.”

As far as I know, the proposed new airport in Panglao to replace the current Tagbilaran airport is nowhere near ready for implementation. I am sure that if a private sector company was allowed to build that airport back in 2011, we would have a decent airport there now.

Why do DOTC officials want to do all the projects themselves when it is clear they are incapable of doing anything useful for the people of this country? Okay, they claim they have built “Kayo Ang Boss Ko” or KBK toilets in ports and airports all over the country… big deal. We do need those toilets, but if that’s mostly what they can point to as accomplishment, it is indeed pretty shitty out there.

Given that the international airport RSA wants to build as an alternative to NAIA is estimated to cost $10 billion, I can see why he is most sensitive to how bureaucrats feel. He told me that P-Noy himself is supportive of the idea. But when DOTC officials tried to disqualify conglomerates that own airlines from airport projects, RSA had to step back and reassess.

True, DOTC relented and eventually allowed San Miguel to bid for Mactan even if it is part owner of Philippine Airlines. But the bias against a company like San Miguel on airport projects has been exposed.

That bias does not make sense. In the United States, the airlines are partners of the government port authorities that run airports. Indeed, airlines even build their own terminals in the bigger airports. The airlines have the most at stake in having good airports and their inputs and investments should always be welcome.

Fresh news about RSA’s proposed airport was sparked by Nikkei, a Japanese news agency. It reported plans to build the $10-billion international gateway that would have four runways against the single-runway of NAIA. Nikkei also reported that the airport project would be offered to the government under a build-operate-transfer scheme where ownership would be turned over to the government after 25 years.

I texted RSA and he confirmed that the project is still alive but suggested that getting government clearance is still in the works.

DOTC Secretary Abaya was not exactly supportive when he was asked by our PhilSTAR reporter to react to the Nikkei news report. He said that would be an unsolicited proposal. “It is not prohibited, however, there is a bias of government against it. We tend toward more open and transparent bids.”

Did Abaya say open and transparent? It isn’t as if DOTC biddings for projects are truly open and transparent. The secrecy in DOTC BAC procedures has been noted by Sen. Serge Osmeña in a recent hearing on the Mactan project. The bidding for the Palawan airport is also being done in a less than open and transparent manner. A conflicted bidder with the help of DOTC’s consultant is getting an unfair advantage.

The way I look at RSA’s airport proposal is simple: private sector money and resources are at risk, not government’s. Given that we do need such a facility right away, why not just let them do it?

The only thing government should look at are technical in nature related to aviation safety. Is the proposed site feasible from a technical point of view? Government should also make sure other airlines and passengers get a fair deal in terms of slots and fees to be charged.

There is supposed to be a JICA study they are waiting for. I am sure that is not a new study. It was former NAIA GM Ed Manda who showed me such a study in the past which identified alternative airport sites including Talim Island and Taguig lakeshore.

I was in a meeting not long ago when a JICA consultant proposed Sangley and building a bridge from there to Roxas Boulevard. I think that is now the inclination of DOTC Sec. Abaya who is from Cavite.

I am not sure where exactly RSA is building his airport. The study I saw three years ago identified Bulacan along the Manila Bay shoreline as the site. I have also heard rumors that RSA will put the airport further inland in Bulacan near where he has his cement plant and where the MRT 7 will terminate. 

I also heard reports that RSA is buying large tracks of land in Naic, Cavite, but that may not necessarily be for the airport project. A friend is currently negotiating. Then, I heard they stopped buying some months ago. I checked again the other day, and it seems the buying has resumed.

Let us also not forget that a large track of idle reclaimed land in the MOA area is owned by CyberBay, a PSE listed company largely owned by RSA. That could be a great site for a new airport too. But wherever RSA eventually puts it up, he promised to build an expressway that will make the airport an easy 20-minute drive from the Makati CBD.

If the original timing of RSA for this airport was followed, he once told me he could have delivered it at least partially before the end of P-Noy’s term. Now that is impossible.

It would be easy to understand why typical bureaucrats would want to build a second Manila airport themselves. Terminal 3 showed us a big ticket project means big kickbacks. But the current DOTC usecs, I still want to believe are not corrupt but just naïve and inept.

These usecs were supposed to have been high fliers from the private sector, so I don’t understand this bureaucratic mindset. In another project, MVP offered to take over MRT 3, spend for its rehab and new railcars, take care of the legal headaches with the Sobrepenas who on paper still own the company that owns MRT and pay government royalty.

Mar Roxas rejected the offer when he was still DOTC Sec and insisted government will do everything. Nothing good has happened so far but instead, they awarded supply of railcars to a lone Chinese bidder after the Czech ambassador complained of an extortion attempt.

So, maybe we need P-Noy to step in and tell them to get going and just help private sector proponents like RSA get those big projects done. It would save the bureaucrats at DOTC a lot of headaches and benefit a long suffering public still waiting for infrastructure they needed yesterday. 

Mad Wife

Lawyer Sonny Pulgar sent this one.

A wife got so mad at her husband she packed his bags and told him to get out. As he walked to the door she yelled, “I hope you die a long, slow, painful death.”

He turned around and said, “So, you want me to stay?”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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