Doubts raised on MCIA plans

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

CEBU -- Government is about to award the Mactan airport expansion project to a private bidder, but some Cebuano officials still harbor some doubts about the project.

Representative Benhur Salimbangon said he opposes the privatization of services in the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA), because it is a vital government facility whose operations should not focus on the profit motive.

Medellin Mayor Ricardo Ramirez, in a separate interview, said he opposes the privatization of airport operations because the Philippine Government has a history of awarding “sweetheart deals” to conglomerates.

He also urged Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III, who serves on the MCIA Authority Board, to speak up on the airport expansion project.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, however, expressed support for the expansion of the airport’s passenger terminal and vouched for the MCIAA Board.

“They are people with probity. I cannot be judgmental about it (the process of choosing the winning bidder),” Rama said.


Under the terms of the P17.52-billion project, the winning bidder will have to construct a new passenger terminal and renovate and expand the existing terminal in Mactan. It will also have to operate both terminals during the concession period of 20 years.

The issuance of a notice of award will be the next step for the build-rehabilitate-operate-and-transfer project. Financial proposals were opened earlier this month, according to the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center.

Since 2011, the number of domestic and international arrivals in Mactan already exceeded the terminal’s annual capacity of 4.5 million passengers, the center also said on its website.

But while the terminals will be operated by the winning bidder, the MCIA Authority “shall continue to operate and maintain the airside facilities” at the airport.


Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya chairs the MCIAA Board, with MCIAA General Manager Nigel Paul Villarete as vice chair.

Its members include representatives of the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Tourism and Department of Justice, Governor Davide and private sector representatives Melanie Ng and Pericles Dakay.

Rama’s former political ally, ex-mayor and ex-congressman Tomas Osmeña, recently found fault with a proposed design of the new passenger terminal, saying it was “ugly and looked like a poultry farm.”

Rama, however, said that Osmeña has no authority to criticize the project because he is not involved in any part of the process.

“If anyone says the design is poor, then where is his design? Naa ka? (Does he have one?),” the mayor said.

“If you’ve just seen it and you have not had any alternative or option for another design and you’re only mastering panaway, di na maayo (If you just want to find fault, that’s not good).”


Salimbangon (Cebu Province, fourth district) said that in the recent budget hearings in Congress, Secretary Abaya appeared but did not tell him about the privatization of airport services. He said he supported the passage of the budget by the House of Representatives for the airport’s expansion.

He added that while the PPP scheme is good, it should be in areas where there are still no government structures, like the proposed Cebu-Bohol bridge or an airport for Bantayan Island that can accommodate larger aircraft.

Salimbangon also said public consultation on the matter is a must, and asked why the privatization of airport operations has not been discussed thoroughly in the Regional Development Council for Central Visayas.

“It is sad to note that they did not inform us, not even a hint,” Salimbangon said.

Representative Luis Gabriel Quisumbing (Cebu Province, sixth district) said that while he favors improving Mactan airport into a world-class facility, he believes the government must conduct a thorough study to find the best option.

“What is important is that whatever package (is decided on), it shall be beneficial to the traveling public. We have to make sure that the airport is modern, safe and secure,” Quisumbing said.

City of Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong said the Cebuano public must be consulted.

“But I am in favor of privatization to make services efficient and competitive,” Chiong said.


For his part, Rama said he has also brought up the idea of moving the Philippine Air Force’s Benito Ebuen Air Base from Mactan, to
give the commercial airport more room for expansion.

“I am for transferring the air base; it’s a huge place that can be used as another runway for the airport,” he said.

The Cebu City mayor said the increasing population of Lapu-Lapu City makes it untenable for the air base to stay where it is.

“If people are being served and many will benefit, it’s about time for them to be relocated,” said Rama.

After the financial proposals were opened two weeks ago, Villarete pointed out that all of the seven bidders “didn’t ask for cash support” even after the government said it can provide up to P4 billion “as viability gap funding”.

“While only one can win, I believe all of us are winners, the people most of all,” the airport manager had added, in a social media post shared by the PPP Center.

“It’s not the amount of the bid, although it does matter in knowing how viable our transport infrastructure are, but rather the service improvement that comes with the PPP process. In the end, we have to remind ourselves that government exists not to maximize profit but to provide a service and to ensure that economic development redounds to the improvement of the quality of life of our people.” (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 29, 2013.

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