Tugade turns into Mar Roxas
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2018 - 12:00am

I had a strange feeling it was about to happen. Last week I got my confirmation. Transportation Secretary Art Tugade has turned into a Mar Roxas clone. That explains a lot.

I caught an interview of Tugade on an ANC business newscast saying he wants to turn NAIA into another BGC. That’s exactly what Mar Roxas wanted to do, too.

There is more. Like Mar Roxas who ordered the domestic airlines to curtail their flights to ease air traffic congestion, that’s also what Tugade is about to do.

The reassignment of all domestic flights of Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines to Terminal 2 punishes the airlines for investing in new fleets to meet the growing needs of our economy. Terminal 2 is too small for the domestic passengers of PAL and Cebu Pacific. 

A city planner, who has worked with some of our top property developers, thinks converting NAIA to another BGC will worsen Metro Manila’s congestion. If Tugade wants to close down NAIA, the responsible thing to do is to convert it into something like New York’s Central Park to give us some breathing space. I understand that is also what JICA planners suggested, if we close down NAIA.

Tugade suggested in that interview that government could make a lot of money opening NAIA for property development like BGC. Tugade fails to understand that making money is not his objective. Looking after the people’s welfare is. Then again, I am sure some politicians are even now salivating at the money to be made, if Tugade implements an idea first broached by Mar Roxas.

Tugade claims DOTr is completing its study of the two unsolicited proposals to fix NAIA. But he already telegraphed his inclination to decline both offers. He told the reporter that NAIA is profitable and government could do what the private proponents want to do.

Like Mar, Tugade misses the point. Of course, NAIA is profitable. It has been remitting excess earnings to the National Treasury. That suggests its fees are probably excessive, or it has failed to spend the money to deliver the services the public is paying for.

The main points of the unsolicited proposals, in case Mr. Tugade missed it are: 1) We need immediate upgrades to NAIA because it will take 10 years to build a new airport from scratch, more in our case due to bureaucratic red tape. Based on experience, including the two years of the Duterte regime, we cannot expect government to have a sense of urgency in carrying out any NAIA improvement other than in press releases.

The urgency to do something was captured by a recent article in The Economist:

“Airports in places such as Manila and Jakarta are crumbling and surrounded by snaking traffic. Plans are afoot to increase annual capacity at Bangkok’s airports by tens of millions over the next four years. Hanoi’s Noi Bai will be expanded at a cost of $5.5 billion by 2020. Airports in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are to be upgraded too.”

2) Since we are sure we will still be using NAIA, for the next 10 years, we cannot risk suffering government style management. Ed Monreal is a lot better than P-Noy’s cousin who pretended to manage NAIA, but even Monreal has problems with government procedures. That’s why it took time to get spare parts for the air conditioning system of the terminals to work well. The rapid exit taxiways needed to ease congestion, is also taking too long to build.

Still, it is good Tugade finally revealed his plans for NAIA. Up until last week, private entities have been wasting money on consultants as they prepare one unsolicited proposal after another to improve NAIA’s situation.

Before the NAIA Consortium and Megawide submitted their proposals, Philippine Airlines also submitted a proposal to improve and expand Terminal 2. But DOTr barely acknowledged the submissions. In the last two years, the Duterte administration and Tugade have done little or nothing other than talk about their grandiose plans.

When I had the privilege to talk to Tugade before he assumed office, I thought he would be an action man. I warned him, as I did the Roxas-Abaya team, that time will pass by so quickly which makes acting on projects urgent. That’s one other reason why Tugade now reminds me so much of Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya. Teka teka din pala.

The flip flop from PPP to GAA or ODA is another unfortunate similarity.  Tugade inherited two vital PPP projects already approved by the NEDA Board ready for public bidding.

The bundled five domestic airports had attracted reputable potential bidders who have spent money preparing feasibility studies and were ready to compete in a public bidding. Tugade unbundled that and now they have five airports to be bid out individually, but no one knows when. It is the same thing with the approved privatization of NAIA modernization, operations and maintenance.

No wonder Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno expressed concern that agencies are not performing up to par when it comes to the implementation of the administration’s Build Build Build program.

Infrastructure spending in January hit P43.3 billion mainly on account of completed projects of DPWH, the disaster-mitigation and lahar-control works in Central Luzon, and the purchase of communication equipment as part of the Department of National Defense-Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program.

“I am not happy with that. There’s going to be a lot of catching up [to do],” Diokno said. Can they pick up the pace of infrastructure spending in the remaining eight months of the year? Hopefully!

Luckily there will be good news. Megawide’s new Mactan terminal will be opened in a little over a month’s time. But this administration has little to do with that.

Build Build Build may suffer the fate of P-Noy’s infra projects that run out of time and will be completed by the next administration.  That’s what Diokno is worried about.

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

AIRPORT REHABILITATION ARTHUR TUGADE MANUEL ROXAS II NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
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