"Bring about the bulldozers and the backhoes."
Once the need for a specific public facility is established, the government should move quickly to bring about its installation, and the more urgent the need for the facility, the greater the sense of urgency with which the government should act. It is so well-known as to need no pointing out, but the administration of President Duterte appears to have forgotten this rule of good governance where the matter of a replacement for NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) is concerned.
I say this because of the confluence of three incontrovertible facts. The first has to do with NAIA’s present adequacy as the nation’s premier air gateway. The second relates to the status of Clark (soon to be renamed Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) and the third incontrovertible fact concerns the existence of a proposal, approved in April by NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority), for the installation of an international airport in Bulacan.
The first terminal of the then-Manila International Airport was, at the time of its 1972 commissioning, more than capable of handling the passenger and cargo traffic of those days. But 46 years later, that, clearly, is no longer the case. Despite the commissioning of Piatco-built terminal number 3 and the addition of an improved domestic passenger terminal, NAIA is bursting at the seams. It now handles 43 million passengers a year—far more than its design capacity. NAIA badly needs relief.
Clark International Airport should be providing that relief, but it is not able to do so. True, its two long US Air Force-built runways have been able to accommodate an increasing number of foreign and domestic carriers, but most of the major airlines have continued to operate out of NAIA. The reason? Movement to and from Metro Manila. There is no roadway that connects Clark directly to the center of the metropolis. EDSA traffic is the big drawback. In addition, Clark’s terminal facilities remain grossly inadequate for NAIA-level passenger and cargo traffic volumes.
There is no comprehensive and long-term plan to enable Clark International Airport to replace NAIA anytime soon as this country’s premier air gateway. In the meantime, two proposals for the installation of a New NAIA have been received by the Duterte administration. One of these proposals which involves the rehabilitation and expansion —mainly through reclamation—of the former US Navy Air Station at Sangley Point in Cavite is undergoing NEDA review. The other proposal has been indicated above, to wit, the Bulacan airport project of San Miguel Corporation’s infrastructure arm, SMHC (San Miguel Holdings Corporation).
The use of the adjective “massive” to describe SMHC’s airport project is entirely appropriate. Four, and possibly six, parallel runways will be laid out on the 2500-hectare project site in the municipality of Bulacan, Bulacan, which is 27 kilometers away from NAIA. It can be reached within 45 minutes from any Metro Manila point through the existing expressways. Apart from state-of-the-art terminals, SMHC’s project proposal includes a seaport, part of the project site being located along Manila Bay. There will also be an industrial-zone component.
Although, as stated above, SMHC’s proposal has been approved by NEDA, it still cannot take off because of one person: the Secretary of Finance. Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has questioned the capacity of San Miguel Corporation’s infrastructure subsidiary to finance the project to completion and wants San Miguel Corporation and its subsidiary to sign a joint liability agreement. The Bulacan project is a P735-billion (US$5 billion) undertaking that will be implemented over a time frame of 5-7 years.
San Miguel Corporation, this country’s largest conglomerate, has argued that the estimated average annual spending on its subsidiary’s airport project—P100 billion—is approximately equal to its total annual cash inflow from its multifarious operations. Besides, it has, it says ample borrowing capacity to finance the priority projects of all its subsidiaries and operating units.
At the outset, San Miguel Corporation resisted the idea of signing a joint liability agreement, but it has since acceded to the demands of the Secretary of Finance. Thus, there should be no further impediment to the full approval of SMHC’s airport project.
The hour is late. The Duterte administration is almost at its halfway point, and the need for a New NAIA becomes more urgent with every passing day.
Bring about the bulldozers and the backhoes and let the Bulacan project finally begin.