‘Teka, teka’ 2.0

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

For someone who has been known to pull her punches even in a fit of fury, Senator Grace Poe could not help but lash out at insidious attempts to leverage the government into inaction. Rarely seen or heard in public to lose her cool, Sen. Poe minced no words on the latest postponement of the government’s bid to privatize the operations and maintenance of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Passenger Terminals 1, 2 and 3.

As the chairman of the Senate committee on public services though, Sen. Poe was visibly exasperated over the latest announcement of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to extend for the nth time the deadline for the submission of bids to the NAIA privatization project. Speaking at our Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum last week, Sen. Poe got dismayed after the DOTr deferred from Dec. 27, 2023 to January 2024 deadline for the public bidding of the NAIA privatization project.

Sen. Poe conceded she could not entirely fault incumbent DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista. Like President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM), she pointed out, Secretary Bautista is just only a year in office and merely inherited these problems from his predecessors at the DOTr. She cited even Secretary Bautista sees the privatization of NAIA could increase its capacity to accommodate more flights and passengers and enhance its security and efficiency while attracting a constant flow of revenue streams.

Sen. Poe pointed out the DOTr infrastructure projects, like those of other government agencies, also suffer delays due to the required vetting process at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). This is why, she explained, a number of provisions were put in place in the soon-to-become law on Private-Public Partnership (PPP) to cut the red tape at NEDA. Before the 19th Congress adjourned last month, both chambers ratified the PPP bill and it is now being reviewed by Malacañang for signing into law by PBBM, or veto it as the case maybe.

“So I hope that I can hear from them that they finally come up with a deadline this December hopefully,” Sen. Poe pointed out.

“Pati si Presidente napapasubo sa kanila,” Sen. Poe bewailed.

Sen. Poe underscored the urgency for the DOTr to jumpstart the process of privatizing the NAIA at the soonest possible time.

“A lot of economic advisers of the President have actually voiced their opinion. Of course, the airport is the gateway to our country. So I think it’s a no-brainer for the initial government way of welcoming all of these incoming tourists and balikbayan to be efficiently run,” she pointed out.

For the first three quarters of 2023, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) recorded 33,757,646 domestic and international arrivals of passengers at the NAIA, surpassing 2022’s full-year total passenger volume of 30,943,105.

Sen. Poe warned that the request for P214.296-billion budget of the DOTr might not also move at the Senate unless the NAIA privatization project bidding date is set. Sen.Poe is the vice chairman of the Senate finance committee handling the proposed DOTr budget included in House-approved 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill now submitted to the Senate. Somebody has to motivate the DOTr to improve the status and services of airports in the country, she quipped.

She recalled the original proposed NAIA privatization started way back in 2017. “Inupuan ito noong dati sa DOTr,” Sen. Poe deplored. “Then, there was a ‘mega consortium’ composed of the biggest corporations with a track record of presence in Philippine business, but the DOTr rejected their unsolicited proposal,” Sen.Poe cited. She noted the mega consortium even engaged an international group of airport experts as its partner for the NAIA privatization project.

The Senator obviously referred to the Manila International Airport Consortium (MIAC). It is composed of six of the Philippines’ largest conglomerates – Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corporation, Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corporation, Alliance Global-Infracorp Development Inc., Filinvest Development Corporation and JG Summit Infrastructure Holdings Corporation. The consortium had also brought in global airport operator and infrastructure investor Global Infrastructure Partners from the United States.

Unfortunately, Sen. Poe noted wryly, the DOTr rejected this offer and opted for solicited project proposals. Further, she lamented DOTr keeps changing its terms of reference (TOR), including provision for material adverse government action (MAGA). Under the revised implementing rules and regulations of the 2022 Build-Operate-Transfer Law, MAGA now includes acts of the government which discriminate against the sector, industry or project, or have a material adverse effect on the ability of the project proponent to comply with any of its obligations under an approved contract.

Sen. Poe rued the Philippines already missed the chance to implement this project to improve and upgrade the services and operations of NAIA while there were still travel bans across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to 2021.

Instead, Sen. Poe recalled the series of incidents that caused major disruptions of domestic and international flights in our country’s premier gateway to the rest of the world.

The most serious of which was the technical glitch last Jan. 2 this year at the height of New Year travel season, when our country’s air space got blinded by the power surge. Both inbound and outbound flights were cancelled by the power outage, causing loss of navigation system that included communications, radar and internet functions.

“We need fast action at this point. Huwag na natin anuhin yung teka-teka muna. Baka maubos ang panahon, sayang ang gaganda ng mga konsepto. Parang may teka-teka part 2 ang DOTR,” Sen. Poe railed.

Just recently, a female NAIA personnel from the Office of the Transport Security (OTS, also an attached agency of DOTr) was caught on CCTV swallowing three $100 bills allegedly filched from a departing NAIA passenger. And it was not even a bomb joke.

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