Recto to DOTr: Why so slow with airport projects?

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday, August 29, hit the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for the slow rollout of airport projects to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

During the Senate hearing on the Xiamen Air accident at the NAIA runway, Recto pointed out that the country's main gateway is "past its peak capacity," with 42 million passengers in 2017.

"If the projected growth is 3 million annually, then it will be impossible for its present facilities to accommodate 15 million more passengers in 5 years," Recto said.

In response, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said they are "doing what they can" to fast-track the airport projects in Bulacan and Sangley in Cavite, the NAIA rehabilitation, as well as the additional terminal at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.

The status of airport projects that would help decongest NAIA was brought up during the hearing, as the Xiamen Air accident prompted the cancellation of 631 flights and left around 250,000 passengers stranded. (READ: What to do when your flight gets canceled)

Senators said that if there were alternative airports to NAIA, the temporary paralysis of flight operations would not have happened during the accident. (READ: TIMELINE: Xiamen Air plane mishap at NAIA runway)

Status of the projects: During the hearing, Tugade explained the status of airport projects. In a nutshell, only the new terminal of the Clark International Airport is in the implementation phase, while the rest have yet to be approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA):

Of the projects, only the Sangley Airport is under a government-to-government scheme. The rest fall under the Build-Operate-Transfer scheme, in which the private contractor would rehabilitate, develop, operate, and maintain the airports.

With that setup, Recto urged the DOTr to speed up the process, given that most projects "will not incur costs" to the government.

"Why can't the government decide quickly? May opportunity costs 'to. Kung sa EDSA, you lose P3 billion [daily]; sa himpapawid, magkano kaya? At madaragdagan pa 'yan (There are opportunity costs. If in EDSA, you lose P3 billion [daily]; in aviation, I wonder how much? And that will increase for sure)," the senator said.

"I firmly suggest the government decide immediately on what's needed to be done with NAIA, Clark, [and] Bulacan.... What are we waiting for?" he added. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.