Delay in NAIA rehabilitation endangers Duterte infra legacy, watchdog says

Delay in NAIA rehabilitation endangers Duterte infra legacy, watchdog says
File photo shows the inside of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The STAR / Kriz John Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — The cancellation of the original proponent status of the second private proponent for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport rehabilitation project risks setting the project back years, and potentially endangers the infrastructure legacy of President Rodrigo Duterte, an infrastructure watchdog said Wednesday.

This comes as the revived rehabilitation talks fell apart once more after the Manila International Airport Authority opted to revoke the OPS of engineering and infrastructure company Megawide Construction Corp. for its P109-billion unsolicited proposal to upgrade and transform the country’s main international gateway for undisclosed reasons.

At a press briefing Wednesday morning, Terry Ridon, convenor of InfraWatch PH, slammed the Department of Transportation for what he said was a failure of leadership, citing the cancellation of the OPS and the recent RFID fiasco along the Metro's tollways. 

"What is most important is for government to be on top of the situation and really to undertake this rehab today and in the soonest time. But that is not going to happen today. We were expecting that this is something jointly resolved. We never expected that they would cancel the OPS with the second proponent. But this pushes back the timeline by a year or two years," the former House transportation panel member said in mixed Filipino and English, pointing out that presidential campaigning for the 2022 elections will be commencing within a year at the earliest. 

"It dampens the confidence of the private sector and of course the public as well in how serious the government is and in working with government...I think the DOTr really needs to make up its mind: is the rehabilitation of NAIA still a go or not?" he also said. 

According to Ridon, the two incidents showed that public-private partnerships under the current DoTr leadership cannot expect government support and leadership, both in the tollways and airport sectors.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which has been called the worst airport in the world, has been at the center of rehabilitation projects since 2018. 

"I think [Transportation Secretary Arthur] Tugade should be given the opportunity to correct what has happened on this matter. If he does not, we will definitely ask for his resignation," Ridon also said. 

Passenger group: Smaller airports won't fill the gap left by NAIA

To recall, the DOTr and the MIAA also revoked the OPS of the NAIA Consortium in July. 

At the same press conference, Primo Morillo of passengers' group The Passenger Forum slammed the timing of the revocation amid the coronavirus pandemic and despite the chief executive's earlier promises.  

"It was President Duterte who promised to fix NAIA. We can't leave NAIA. Even alternative airports are small and cannot take in the big part that NAIA can catch. Sangley and Clark will be paralyzed if (air traffic) from NAIA is redirected to them," he said in Filipino. 

"When it comes to flying, we see that this isn't a priority. Even in land transportation, we have a lot of problems. So we can't see what DOTr really wants to focus on. What is funny is that this shouldn't be taking this long. I think July 15 this year they gave the OPS. After five months they took it back, and it hasn't moved since."

The Passenger Forum earlier called on the department to push for the rehabilitation amid the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, saying that it is the best time to rehabilitate NAIA while there is less air traffic due to the global pandemic.

Neither the transportation department nor the Manila International Airport Authority have responded to reporters' queries as of the publishing. 

"Unless the transport department reconsiders, we can all say goodbye to a better NAIA. The congestion and poor service are all here to stay until the end of the president’s term," Ridon said in a separate statement. — Franco Luna with reports from The STAR 

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