Better safe than worry
Time is slipping by quickly for the Department of Transportation to act on the expansion program of Clark International Airport, or CRK for short.
In fact, the DOTr has only 10 months to jumpstart the project before it expires.
Still aching for a bit of DOTr attention are some untouched funds of P800 million, mostly intended for the technical studies for the expansion.
The Aquino (Part II) administration allotted the money in the 2015 budget. Yes, two years ago and still untouched!
Under the law, the DOTr has only two years to use the funds, or else they revert to the national treasury, neither to be seen nor heard of again.
The two-year leeway for DOTr ends on Dec. 31 this year.
If the DOTr forgets to use the money, the memory lapse will affect the entire expansion program worth about P7 billion.
In the 2016 budget, the airport got P2.1 billion for the Phase I construction, which naturally would never move on without the technical studies. Without Phase I, the subsequent segments would also be forgotten.
In effect, the entire project hinges on the ability of the DOTr to use the P800 million budget this year.
To think, the DOTr is already delayed in the project by almost two years, since construction was originally set to start in 2016, and its completion, well, by 2018.
To think, the government already spent money on the architectural design, done by foreign firm Aeroport De Paris.
All that will be wasted unless the DOTr moves fast enough!
It so happened that, in all these seven months of the administration of the motor-biking Duterte Harley, our beloved Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade simply talked about big plans and complex schemes, plus sprinkling of some impossible dreams, to modernize our transport systems. Things like cable cars in Metro Manila!
He threw his support to CRK, promising to build railways and road network, saying that this country would need CRK as back up to the overcrowded Naia.
Talking of plans and schemes, the administration already has a superb name for its P8-trillion spending binge called “golden age of infrastructure,” none other than TRIP, or the Three-year Rolling Infrastructure Program.
Was it TRIP as in “journey” or TRIP as in “stumble?” Just asking!
Anyway, in a better-safe-than-sorry move, Clark International Airport Corp. earlier trumpeted a little “memo” that it signed with DOTr. It basically said, not to worry, they would still pursue the expansion. And that was it.
Actively seeking the actual release of the funds is the former congressman from the region, Joseller Guiao, aka “Yeng,” the professional basketball coach, who noted that it took a lot of work to get the P2.9-billion budget for the expansion, considering that it already passed the stringent Neda screening and all that.
Just exactly what was keeping the DOTr from jumpstarting the expansion, say, by commissioning the technical studies, Yeng Guiao could never really know.
Talk in business suggested that the administration might be eyeing an entire new airport to replace Naia, so the CRK expansion might take the back burner.
The truth is we are stuck with Naia for the next several years.
If we decide now to build a brand new airport, we still must wait for at least 10 years to see its actual operation.
In the meantime, do we just make do with Naia, with its limited capacity and all, and just grin and bear the hours upon hours of flight delays?
Whether the DOTr likes it or not, we do really need the CRK.
The Philippine flag carriers PAL and Cebu-Pac already said as much, when they decided to relocated a god number of their flights to CRK.
In fact, the Civil Aeronautics Board, or CAB, also tried to force international airlines from the United Arab Emirates to use CRK, as part of its condition in giving away landing rights to the airlines, totaling 392 flights a year.
Guess what—all those 392 flights would still use Naia!