Bola pa more?
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2018 - 12:00am

At last it happened. A tourism Secretary managed to arrange a meeting together with key members of the Cabinet needed to support tourism. They agreed to focus on improving the arrivals and departure experience, specially at NAIA.

They agreed to put up additional immigration booths (DOTr responsibility) and deploy additional personnel, to which the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bureau of Immigration (BI) have committed. That’s a nice start, but not nearly enough.

Business Mirror’s Stella Arnaldo asked Sec. Art Tugade a simple question after the meeting: Will President Duterte be able to inaugurate a new airport to cater to the needs of Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? Tugade got flustered. 

Tugade said, “Wait a minute. You’re putting a mouthful into my mouth. The Bulacan proponent said they would be able to finish one or two runways, right? In Sangley, for sure, it will be for general aviation. We’re already implementing the project and the infrastructure there. The President will inaugurate the Clark terminal. In the NAIA, whether it will be the seven taipans or the government, we will finish the improvements and renovation there.” 

That is typical Tugade doubletalk. Promising, but evasive on specifics. The question is as always, WHEN? Hopefully he did not try to leave Sec. Berna with the impression he is going to deliver on the airports when he is uncertain if he can.

But Tugade is right. The Bulacan airport proponent did promise to deliver one or two runways and one terminal to allow President Duterte to inaugurate these facilities before his term expires. But it depends on how soon they get the go signal from Tugade’s DOTr to start building.

The ball is very much in Tugade’s court. He has to coordinate with DOF on getting the Swiss challenge done soonest. Tugade isn’t exactly burning with urgency to get it done.

The Clark terminal is easy because BCDA is in charge and Vince Dizon had long ago conducted a successful bidding and awarded the project to Megawide. On the other hand, DOTr is having problems conducting a successful bidding.

As for the NAIA rehabilitation, there are two offers from a consortium of taipans and Megawide to do it at no cost to the government. Why is Tugade still talking of the possibility that government will do the project?

Letting government rehabilitate NAIA means it will not be done quickly. Note that it has been two years since Tugade took over DOTr and no big project has come out of his office. We cannot afford to let Tugade do the NAIA rehab. Let the private sector work on it because it is to their interest to get the job done fast.

Megawide’s amazing performance in Cebu Mactan showed projects get done, if we allow the private sector to build our airports. The last time Tugade said the government can do airports was two years ago and up to now, nothing as moved on the bundled airport projects he scuttled.

Actually, if Tugade just awards the rehab of NAIA to one of the two proponents, he no longer has to worry about fulfilling promises he made to Sec. Berna. Other than the additional immigration booths, Tugade made more promises to Sec. Berna during their meeting to include:

 Night rating of 42 domestic airports, 15 of which are already being upgraded with night-landing/departure facilities (DOTr).

Adding 30 more toilet facilities at the passenger terminals in NAIA.

Reiteration by NAIA of its non-invasive approach in checking luggage of passengers by using x-ray machines, and marking only of questionable packages/luggage. 

Expected arrival of some 1,600 high-definition CCTV cameras, a P5-million project, for deployment throughout the NAIA passenger terminals, and expanding the storage capability to 30 days.

The night rating of domestic airports had been promised by the past administration as a solution to alleviate NAIA’s flight congestion. During my early meetings with Tugade two years ago, it was also on top of his “to do” list. Promises, promises… When? When? When?

I hope Sec. Berna will not be satisfied with DOTr putting up a few more immigration booths or 30 more toilets at NAIA terminals. We need total rehab of that airport because we will be using it for the next 15 years, at the very least.

Let us also see how fast the justice secretary can deliver on his promise to expedite visa upon arrival processes so that more tourists can come and visit. The tourism department is pushing for fewer visa restrictions for key markets. And civilized immigration lines and officers are a must.

In any case, I am glad the meeting hosted by Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat took place. Sec. Berna assured me she would also nag Tugade and the other Cabinet members to deliver projects vital to the tourism sector. She warned that she is makulit, mahirap mabola. Her easy access to the President should make them think twice about just making her bola and then fail to deliver.

Other than Tugade, the meeting was also attended by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara, Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña, NAIA general manager Ed Monreal and their supporting officials.

Actually, the economic and infrastructure Cabinet members had better do more about getting their projects off the ground. President Duterte is showing impatience on infra projects, specially those in the provinces.

I don’t think the song and dance routine on Build Build Build will work much longer. Even foreign economic analysts I have talked to have started to notice that nothing much has moved. Their optimistic assessments of the country’s economic growth are hinged on BBB rolling out this year. 

Bola pa more? Magkakahalataan na!

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

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