Monday, May 22, 2017
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DOTr rejects offers for Clark Airport

The Duterte administration will pursue by itself the development of Clark International Airport in Pampanga, effectively shutting out tycoons and airport operators that have come forward with multibillion dollar modernization offers.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade revealed to reporters last week the new development policy for Clark Airport, the nearest alternative to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), which was suffering from growing congestion and limited options for expansion.

Tugade said he preferred that the government first develop Clark Airport, rather than risk delays in the event an auction involving private sector players would lead to litigation—a possible outcome given past projects under various administrations.

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“If there is a bidding, and plenty of companies participate, what do you think will happen when someone loses?” Tugade said, mainly in Filipino, as he suggested the possibility that a lawsuit would be filed, placing the project on hold.

“So we will start it first,” added Tugade, a businessman who used to head Clark Development Corp. under President Aquino.

It appeared the issue was headed in that direction last March, when the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said it was reviewing two unsolicited offers from private sector groups. Aviation matters at the time were spearheaded by Undersecretary Roberto Lim, who confirmed last week he would step down this May.

These proposals were the $5-billion offer of Megawide Construction Corp. and India’s GMR Infrastructure, which operate the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and the $3.7-billion proposal of the Gokongwei family’s JG Summit Holdings Inc. and Gotianun-controlled Filinvest Development Corp.

Each group, which saw big passenger traffic potential for Clark, sought 50-year concession deals to develop, operate and maintain the province’s main air gateway, without any government guarantees or subsidies.

Megawide-GMR and the Filinvest Group had previously clashed over the Cebu Airport project, a public-private partnership project, however, the former eventually prevailed since it submitted the bigger offer.

Tugade clarified that the proposals of Megawide-GMR and JG Summit-Filinvest were not formally rejected, but said they would be informed of the new policy. During the Arroyo administration, the Philco Aero group bagged an award to develop Clark, an issue that has yet to be resolved.

Clark Airport currently falls under the responsibility of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which wants to open a new passenger terminal by 2019.

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The development plan, in cooperation with France’s Aeroport De Paris, called for the initial doubling of Clark’s capacity to 8 million passengers per year. Clark Airport handles only about a quarter of its present four-million passenger capacity.

Meanwhile, Tugade told reporters the DOTr was still open to offers for a “new Manila” international airport.

The DOTr said it was evaluating San Miguel Corp.’s P700- billion “aerotropolis” spanning roughly 2,500 hectares of land in Bulakan, Bulacan, north of Metro Manila.

Separately, the Solar Group and Belle Corp. proposed a P1.3-trillion reclamation project in offshore Sangley Point, Cavite. About 2,500 hectares would then be redeveloped into a new airport, seaport and industrial estate.

“In due time, if it is needed and the situation and the financials support it, then we are ready to listen to offers on the New Manila [airport],” Tugade said, adding that “priority” projects were Clark and the rehabilitation of Naia.

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