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11:03 PM January 6th, 2013

By: Conrado Banal, January 6th, 2013 11:03 PM

Check out this latest item about our pathetic airport facilities: The trouble over a huge contract, worth hundreds of millions of pesos, at the premier airport, Naia.

To think, better airports—and, with a bit of luck, clean pleasant-smelling toilets in them—are supposed to be among the most critical pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of a tourism campaign of the Aquino (Part II) administration.

Based on media pronouncements of the Department of Tourism, now with its aggressive head Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., the administration wants to make a go at tourism as a main producer of jobs.

Official data show that the industry currently has less than four million jobs. By 2016 at the end of the term of our leader, Benigno Simeon (aka BS), the DOT is targeting jobs in the sector to hit about seven million.

Even DOT officials admitted that the target was rather an ambitious one, owing perhaps to the government’s perennial problem over funding.

In trying to put together the tourism jigsaw puzzle, the DOT decided at the onset to tap various sectors—the hotel industry, airlines and even other branches of the government, such as Congress.

The DOT needs Congress and the Department of Budget and Management, for instance, to fast-track the budget for the construction of new airports all over the country, such as the two airports in the Bicol region and in Samar, which are now under wraps.

Under the DOT program, airports fall under one major portion of the campaign, what DOT officially calls “market accessibility.” You know, no airport, no tourists!

Why are new airports—hopefully with better-smelling toilets—important in the DOT campaign? Well, for one, the program calls for the development of new tourism destinations in the country, what the DOT officially calls “product diversification.”

At present, more than 70 percent of the high-spending foreign tourists who come to the Philippines go to beach resorts. And the DOT figured this country had much more to offer foreign tourists than just its seashore.

Anyway, the international airport in Metro Manila, officially known as Ninoy Aquino International Airport, or Naia, as it was named after the father of our leader, BS, should come at the top of the DOT list for facility upgrade.

The volume of passengers handled by Naia has increased in the past 10 years, from about 12 million in 2002 to almost 30 million in 2012, which was already an increase of two and half times.

Like any other government agency, the airport authority in the metropolis—the Miaa or the Manila International Airport Authority—nurses a big headache over funding year in and year out.

To help remedy the disorder, the current Miaa management, headed by an upright man named Jose Angel Honrado as general manager, decided to make the most of Miaa’s income from the advertising spaces at Naia’s three airport terminals.

When Honrado became Miaa head in 2010, he reviewed the advertising contracts. Lo and behold, the previous management leased all those valuable promotional spaces to only one company.

And that is the Digichive Philippines, a company in advertising services based in San Juan, which is the political bailiwick of former President Joseph Estrada, the man named Band…Wrist Band.

To top it all, Honrado found out that, for about five years, the income of Naia from the advertising spaces at its three terminals only amounted to P13 million a year.

To think, advertising spaces are considered as a main source of revenues for airports all over the world, perhaps next only to rentals from commercial spaces, and passenger and airline fees.

So Honrado put the Naia advertising contract up for bidding. Reports said Digichive Philippines all of a sudden relented and offered Miaa higher rental fees reaching more than P100 million a year. That’s an increase of more than seven times!

Still, according to reports, Digichive Philippines lost in the bidding recently held by the Miaa under Honrado, who already commanded the respect of the airport users with his no-nonsense management style.

But after the Miaa board decided to award the contract to another company that offered a much higher figure than that of Digichive Philippines, this company went to court.

Of course, Digichive Philippines sued the Miaa in a court in—of all places—its home court in San Juan.  San Juan Regional Trial Court Judge Leonie Janolo Jr. issued the TRO that Digichive Philippines requested.

In effect, the San Juan court TRO stopped Miaa from awarding the contract to the highest bidder. The plan of Honrado for Naia to earn much more from its advertising spaces was thus put on hold—indefinitely.

In short, more delay!

The Miaa reportedly estimated that, because of the TRO, it would fail to increase its advertising revenues, foregoing monthly income of about P11 million, which surely could help finance facility upgrades at the terminals.

There—Miaa still cannot escape the leading cause of delay in airport projects in the land: the use of legal and judicial maneuvers.

Look, the newest terminal at the Manila airport, the Naia 3, is still entangled in legal knots, now already 20 years in the running.

The Naia 3 project took its origin back in 1992, during the time of Kuya Eddie, aka former President Fidel Ramos, who decided to assemble the country’s richest Chinese Filipinos, called taipans, to purse the project together.

For five long years, from 1992 to 1997, court cases stalled the project, as the company of the rich taipans, called Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., or AEDC, battled for control of the project against a little known entity called Piatco.

Finally the project started in 1997, with Piatco partnering with German firm Fraport. The construction took more than five long years, at a huge cost of more than $800 million.

The Naia 3 project got embroiled in more court cases between the BOT project, i.e. Piatco-Fraport, and the government under the administrations of the man named Band—Wrist Band—and Gloriaetta.

Up to today, the Aquino (Part II) administration has yet to complete the Naia 3 project. From what I heard, the crucial computer system at the Naia 3 has yet to be installed, so that most airlines hesitate to use the terminal.

Only three airlines are using it, namely, Cebu Pacific (owned by the group of taipan John Gokongwei), Airphil Express (a company of the national flag-carrier Philippine Airlines), and the only foreign firm All Nippon Airways.

There—NAIA 3 has been delayed, now some 20 years in the making, and still counting. Story of our lives, I guess!

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