Criteria for airport projects
THE BICOLANOS will have to wait for two or three more years before the proposed Bicol International Airport (BIA) becomes operational.
A Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) official recently informed a House of Representatives committee that the airport will not be completed until 2018 or 2019 due to hitches in the awarding of the construction contracts.
This report puts a damper on President Aquino’s earlier promise that the new gateway to the Bicol region will be up and going before he leaves office next year.
The delay did not sit well with the Bicol congressmen. Echoing his fellow Bicolano lawmakers’ frustration over the delay, Albay Rep. Fernando Gonzalez said:
“So why was the completion date revised? Is it because of lack of funding, lack of interest on the part of DOTC to finish the project, or Bicolanos are not important enough that DOTC can just delay the project by three years when all other airports in the country have been completed?”
The disappointment is understandable. DOTC’s promise to complete the project by 2018 or 2019 is “iffy” or a big question mark.
There is no assurance the next administration will make good DOTC’s commitment, more so if President Aquino’s successor fails to win in the vote-rich Bicol region.
For all its interesting tourist spots, the Bicol region has not achieved its full potential in domestic and international tourism. Although land travel to its six provinces is scenic and convenient, it takes close to eight to nine hours to get there from Metro Manila.
The five airports—Daet, Naga, Legazpi, Masbate and Virac—servicing the region are inadequate. Except for the Legazpi airport, the other airports do not have the facilities and equipment needed to service large aircraft.
The BIA is needed yesterday, if not many years ago. The reasons cited by DOTC to explain the delay in its construction and operation are unacceptable. They follow the same pattern of excuses it has given to explain the deterioration of mass transit facilities in Metro Manila.
It does not take rocket science to come up with an action plan that can meet the requirements of our procurement and bidding regulations to be able to meet the 2016 deadline set by President Aquino to make BIA operational.
The Bicolano congressmen have every reason to feel their region is being discriminated against by DOTC. While the construction and upgrading of airports in other provinces are in full swing, BIA is stuck in some bureaucratic maze that is characteristic of the way DOTC does [or bungles] its job.
From the looks of it, DOTC’s priority list on airports depends on the senator or congressman pushing for the project. If he is close to the powers that be in DOTC or heads a congressional committee whose good graces Malacañang needs to cultivate, his airport project will be treated as urgent.
Never mind if the airport is not commercially available or will cater only to the private planes of the influential lawmakers and their friends when they feel like having a good time in their district and do not want to go through the hassle of long land travel or scheduled commercial flights.
Last week, during the Senate hearing on DOTC’s 2016 budget, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director general William Hotchkiss said that of the 82 airports all over the country that his office owns and operates, only 41 have commercial operations.
The rest are either idle or being utilized as training centers of flying schools and by military aircraft.
Since these airports cannot be allowed to deteriorate, the government has no choice but to allocate and spend millions of pesos for their upkeep and maintenance.
Hotchkiss said his agency is looking into the possibility of upgrading some of these airports through the public private partnership program with the view of making them available for the use of the country’s burgeoning flying school business.
Like government-operated colleges and universities, airports are considered prestige projects in cities and provinces.
Senators, congressmen and local government officials vie for the honor of having airports constructed (and named after them or their departed relatives) in their bailiwicks.
It doesn’t matter if the airport is located in an area that is prone to disruption by natural elements, or will not attract passenger or cargo traffic that would make it attractive to commercial airlines.
The mere fact that the city or province has an airport, no matter how small or unproductive it may be, is okay as long as it would boost the ego or add to the bragging rights of some politicians.
Congress should adopt stricter criteria in the allocation of the people’s money for the construction of airports in the country. There is no need to add to the 82 airports that have already been constructed.
The ego trip of politicians on having airports in their districts should not be funded by taxpayers’ money. If they want to have their own air strips, let them use their own money. After all, they have easy access to pork barrel, despite their being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and other congressional sidelines so funding would not be a problem.
The money being spent for 41 idle airports can be put to better use in upgrading or improving the facilities of the airports that are presently fully operational or commercially viable.
To the Bicolanos, too bad your representatives in the government do not have the clout or influence needed that can make your dream international-class airport come true.
You probably may have to wait until someone from your ranks gets to Malacañang.
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