Last plane out

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2018 - 12:00am

At the rate major infrastructure projects of the government are being done and completed in our country, it would do well for the present administration to let the private sector do the job. A good example of this is the new Bohol International Airport that President Rodrigo Duterte formally inaugurated yesterday in the island resort of Panglao. 

This will be the second major airport infrastructure project completed after the Cebu International Airport that was also started during the administration of former President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. It was also inaugurated by President Duterte several months ago this year.

The two airport projects are among the 15 new airports planned to be put up over a period of time under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program launched by the administration of PNoy a few months after he assumed office in June 2010. The administration of President Duterte though never claimed credits for the completion of these two airport projects started by the defunct Department of Transportations and Communications.

Now reorganized as the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Secretary Arturo Tugade continued and stepped up the completion of the two airport projects. Tugade, along with several Duterte Cabinet officials are now pursuing their own massive infrastructure program dubbed as “Build, Build, Build.”

The P7.4-billion Bohol International Airport project was funded by a tied loan under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It was started by the previous administration in June 2015. Its original scheduled completion was in December 2017 or early 2018. 

However, the Panglao airport construction was delayed several times due to previously unseen challenges in the new airport site.

First, they discovered deep sinkholes directly under the runway. The problem was eventually solved by engineers who successfully depressed, filled and compacted holes and made sure the runways are safe for big and small commercial aircraft. Another problem cropped up when project engineers discovered coral structure on the airport area. 

Due to these problems, the commissioning of the airport was delayed. The original plan to open it last year was moved to June this year. Thus, the total upgrade cost for the new Bohol-Panglao International Airport went up to P8.914 billion. The final all-systems-go came after the power and water lines in the airport area were installed and became operational.

And topping the good fortunes of the Boholanos is the soon to operate Richli bulk water and distribution project that will serve the potable drinking water requirements in Tagbilaran City and the rest of the province, including those in their world famous white sand beaches in Panglao. It’s a private sector project of the Richard E. Lim Group of Companies in partnership with a water company owned by fellow Boholanos called JE Hydro & Bio-Energy Corp.

President Duterte led last Monday the construction kick-off for another bulk water supply project in his home city in Davao. The President is invited to inaugurate the Richli bulk water and distribution project next month when tap water connections go on stream to more than 35,000 households in Panglao.

With the stage set for its full commercial operations, President Duterte yesterday made the ceremonial test-run of the new Bohol International Airport as he flew in to Panglao from Davao City via chartered private jet.

The new airport terminal, viewed from the outside, has curved roof that seems to float above the building. It has solar panels on its rooftop and billed itself as the country’s first “Eco-Airport” that combines convenience and efficiency of services to passengers and travelers with environment-friendly facilities. The large roof supernatants were perhaps inspired by the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, a major attraction that brings thousands of foreign and local tourists to the province.

According to official figures of the Department of Tourism (DOT), the province of Bohol was visited by 443,477 foreign tourists last year, and posted a big jump from 266,313 from previous year, or a 66.5% increase. In the island resort of Panglao, foreign tourist arrivals in 2017 reached 379,906 from the previous year’s record of 214,733, or it rose by 76.9%.

Given such growing volume of tourists going to Bohol, it is thus not surprising that DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat identified the island resort of Panglao as the next stop of the administration’s clean-up campaign against tourism establishments, specifically those that are non-compliant of environmental laws and other national and local government rules and regulations while running their businesses.

The new airport in Panglao will replace the existing airport located in Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran. Built on a 220-hectare site in Panglao Island, the new airport is ten times bigger than Tagbilaran Airport’s 22-hectare land area. Compared to Tagbilaran Airport’s capacity of 400 passengers, the new Bohol-Panglao International Airport can hold up to 650 passengers during peak hours and is estimated to be able to manage annually up to 1.7 million in passenger traffic.

We have personally experienced last Sunday being on board a fully loaded airplane with over 160 or so passengers and crew. Upon advice of airport tower in Tagbilaran, we were made to circle around for at least 20 minutes or so. The pilot informed us that another aircraft must first take off before we would be allowed to land. That was how small the runway of the Tagbilaran airport. It could only accommodate one big plane at the tarmac. 

If there is one airport project that remains problematic, it is the long overdue Daraga International Airport in Albay. Started in 2005, the on-and-off construction of the airport continues to be carried in the annual budget but remains unfinished up to now. The airport’s fate has been the beef of Albay Congressman Joey Salceda who was then the chairman of the House appropriations committee that provided for its funding under the government’s national budget in 2005 before he graduated from Congress on his third and last term.

Salceda later won and served for three consecutive terms as Albay Governor but the Daraga airport is nowhere near completion. Nine years after and Salceda is back in Congress and running for his second term in his district’s province, the P4.8 billion Daraga airport project is still in such limbo state.

The Boholanos are more fortunate with their new airport now fully operational with only a year of delay of the project completion. So, it is a good testament to getting the private sector do the project with minimal government involvement and participation.

P.S. The PAL Express flight back to Manila took off at 4:15 p.m. as the last plane out before the Tagbilaran airport was closed for official operations at 6 p.m. last night. All flights to and from Bohol were transferred effective this morning to the new Panglao airport.

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