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DOTr: Bulacan ‘aerotropolis’ project back to negotiating table

Ernesto Pernia

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia. INQUIRER file photo / JOAN BONDOC

MANILA, Philippines–It will be ultimately up to President Rodrigo Duterte to decide on the fate of the proposed “aerotropolis” project in Bulacan pitched by diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. as persistent issues on its viability kept the economic team from fully approving it on Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the interagency Investment Coordination Committee (ICC), economic managers green-lighted the following projects: Philippines-Korea Project Preparation Facility; Road Network Development Project in Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao; Reconstruction and Development Plan for a Greater Marawi Stage 2, as well as Regional Fish Port Project for the Greater Capital Region.

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The ICC co-chaired by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia and Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III also approved the reasonable rate of return for the expansion of Clark International Airport, specifically for its operations and maintenance (O&M) concession, a public-private partnership (PPP) project.

Dominguez told reporters after the meeting that the Clark airport expansion project “has no problem.”

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Also, the ICC discussed the results of the negotiations between the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and SMC for the latter’s unsolicited proposal to build the Bulacan International Airport.

Asked about SMC’s proposed aerotropolis, Dominguez replied: “There were two airport projects that we discussed. And they were discussed at length… This meeting is to validate whether what was submitted is what is approved prior… There’s no concession agreement yet that was submitted.”

To recall, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Board chaired by Duterte already approved the Swiss challenge for the Bulacan airport project last April, but with conditions, as the Department of Finance (DOF) had to ensure its financial viability.

Dominguez, nonetheless, said these two airport projects will be elevated to the Neda Board.

Persistent issues have kept the massive airport project from advancing.

As such, DOTr Undersecretary for planning Reuben Reinoso said on Wednesday it was back to the negotiating table between the DOTr and SMC.

He said the sticking points during the ICC meeting included the increase in terminal fees and provisions to protect the concessionaire from any material impact arising from executive orders issued by the President.

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“There were some suggested revisions on the draft concession agreement, which we need to negotiate with SMC,” Reinoso said in a text message.

Previous talks included measures to protect the concessionaire from potential changes in the law. However, Reinoso clarified that the current discussions only involved executive orders.

In a business forum last October, SMC president Ramon S. Ang said he personally attended a meeting with DOTr officials, during which he pledged to shoulder the cost of right-of-way, typically a government expense.

He said at the time that the reason was to hasten the pace of negotiations for the airport project. /jpv

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