How the NAIA Consortium did it
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2018 - 12:00am

On the helipad of Lucio Tan’s building in Makati one tension-filled morning of February, one of three personal helicopters of the Forbes listed billionaire – a sleek, shiny white chopper with red and light blue stripes and its flight crew, were waiting for the go-signal. 

 They would be flying any minute. They were to bring a team that would deliver the documents – pages and pages of documents. And the papers were almost ready. 

 A few meters away, inside a holding room in the glittering Makati Shangri-La Hotel, the tycoons gathered to make sure that every page in the document was signed. 

 Three teams were to deliver three sets of the same documents. It was a most awaited day. The whole scenario took months to plan, imagined and rehearsed in their minds’ eye over and over. It couldn’t go wrong. They couldn’t afford any mishap. It was a critical day for seven of the country’s biggest conglomerates – the Aboitiz Group, Ayala Corp., Andrew Tan’s Alliance Global, Filinvest, JG Summit, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and the Lucio Tan Group’s Asia’s Emerging Dragon. 

The chopper of El Kapitan, as the 83-year old taipan is known, is mostly for his own use for ease of travel — and perhaps for the billionaire’s own safety when he goes around Metro Manila and nearby areas. Only a few are authorised to use it aside from Tan himself.

 But there are exceptions to this rule and this day was one of those days. It was, after all, the day when the super consortium of seven conglomerates would submit its unsolicited proposal to redevelop the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. 

 They needed every second to make it to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade’s office in faraway Clark in Mabalacat, Pampanga as soon as possible, to deliver their proposal. 

Why the rush? Because they had to be first — first on record, first on the time stamp and first in real life.

 Is there a difference? In crucial submissions, there can be a sleight of hand and a competitors’ bid may suddenly find its way to the top of the pile. Perhaps, this was what they had in mind although I don’t know for sure.

 At last, the documents were ready. The moment had come. The helicopter’s engines are now roared to life; the rotor blades were already turning. It was time to go.

 The team assigned to Tugade’s headquarters in Clark boarded Tan’s chopper and left.  Of the three teams, they were the most crucial.

 Two other teams were deployed -- and traveled via land transportation -- to two other offices: The office of the Manila International Airport Authority’s headquarters in Pasay and the office of the Department of Transportation in Ortigas. 

 As if the speed and timing weren’t enough, the teams made sure that the documents were properly received and the whole process was properly documented with photos. 

 One by one, as soon as the package had been delivered and properly received, the teams reported to their principals: mission accomplished. All three offices received their respective set of documents. The records and time stamps and photographs were there to prove that the consortium was indeed the first to submit.  And that was the only goal. 

And so it started one tension filled day in February, on top of a building owned by the country’s fourth richest man.

On Monday, the MIAA board granted the consortium the original proponent status. The tycoons heaved out a big sigh of relief. They are eager to start.

The National Economic and Development Authority’s Investment Coordination Committee can now proceed with the evaluation of the project.

Once approved by the NEDA board, the project will be subjected to a Swiss challenge.

Promises, promises

It’s still a long way to go and the critical work has yet to start, but the consortium must be ready to fulfill its promise. It’s no joke promising Filipinos that they will soon have a world-class airport. This will entail a lot of work considering the miserable state of our gateway now. 

Last Saturday night, passengers complained on social media of how they had to wait for their bags for more than two hours.

MIAA said, “The inclement weather greatly affected the ground operations of several companies, including loading of baggage to the conveyor.” What a sorry state, this airport.

Questions raised before the Ombudsman

Meanwhile, a group calling itself Koalisyon Kontra Katiwalian is calling for transparency in the whole NAIA rehabilitation process.

In a letter received by the Office of the Ombudsman last week, the group said the proposal must be made available to the public in the interest of transparency. It likewise raised issues on the consortium’s proposal, saying the project must involve a new technology or concept.

Wait and see

We’ll now have to wait and see how the consortium will address these questions and deliver on its promise. As I’ve said before, Filipinos deserve a much better airport. It doesn’t have to be sleek and shiny. It just needs to work efficiently. And when happens, I’ll be the first to pop the champagne.

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

METRO PACIFIC INVESTMENTS CORP. NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
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