Time to Speak about the Airport (Last part)

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014


BEST OPTION- Experts on aviation and financial gurus are one in saying that the best option for the Philippines to build its international gateway is in the aviation complex of Clark Freeport, and that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) should be downgraded as a secondary airport since its 3.2 kilometer single runway can no longer accommodate the larger aircrafts. And the runway has no more room for expansion. The terminals are too congested, causing so much inconvenience to airline passengers.

CLARK IS IT - For many years there were serious efforts to upgrade the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA), but somehow these were stalled due to various reasons. I paid a visit to Levi P. Laus a former president of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and vice chairman of the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) in his corporate office in San Fernando and both of us were trying to recall and attempted to retrace the steps on why the delay despite the marching order then of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to speed up the upgrading.

The last proponent to propose the build the gateway was the Al Kharafi group of Kuwait, and took the CIAC board more than two years in discussing and evaluating the proposal only to be overtaken by the assumption into office of President Noynoy Aquino without closure.

BACKGROUND- After several failures in the preceding years of getting a joint venture partner, then Trade Secretary Peter Favila intervened and wanted the CIAC board to study closely the Al Kharafi proposal. Without me asking questions, I got it from my unimpeachable source that President GMA made a commitment to the Emir of Kuwait to accommodate the
Al Kharafi group, a Kuwait construction company which was on airport construction business, in exchange for the lives of two overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whom GMA wanted to save from their death sentences. It was a trade off. The two Filipina maids were saved from the gallows and were sent back to the Philippines. And the marching order was for CIAC board to immediately evaluate the Al Kharafi proposal.

THE PROCESS BEGAN- San Fernando businessman Nestor Mangio was then CIAC board chairman and Laus was vice chairman with retired General Narciso Abaya and Aloysius Santos as board advisers.Victor Jose 'Chichos' Luciano, Benigno Ricafort, Alexander Caugiran, Silvestre 'Ted' Punzalan, Alfonso Cusi, Jesus Nicdao, Romeo Dyoco and I were directors.

Initial proposal of Al Kharafi was to develop more than 200 hectares in the aviation complex including a world class terminal. This was gladly accepted by the board, but the entire proposal was subjected to close scrutiny for all conformity to existing Philippine laws. There were several issues, big and small, that were sorted out and the board finally were in agreement that it can accept the Al Kharafi proposal.

The long and tedious process of evaluation started with some hope it can be fast tracked but some impediments and hurdles surfaced along the way.

CHANGE IN THE PROPOSAL-It was after a trip in Kuwait by some members of the board when a change in the original proposal was proposed by Al Kharafi group, and this time it wanted more than a 1,200 hectares of the aviation complex instead of the original more than 200 hectares. I was the most vocal among the board members in voicing my objection when the revised proposal wouldn't indicate timelines, meaning starting years in the phases of developments. And to top it all, the revised proposal was asking that no airport should be established within the 50 kilometer radius of DMIA. With all his business sense, Levi Laus cannot agree on the new conditions the revised proposal imposed. 'Let us do what is right', I remember him saying that.

I explained that the condition asked by Al Kharafi is not for CIAC to give but it needs a legislative fiat. Many of the board directors were in accord with my arguments, but those objections reached Malacanang.

I WAS FIRED - I was informed that President GMA was so displeased by my objections. It reaches GMA through her personal secretary Medy Poblador and Secretary Favila. 'I don't need Max's fiscalization, I need the airport,' angrily the president told her son Mikey when the latter was trying to save my seat in the CIAC board? And it didn't take long I was given my walking papers. I was replaced by Raffy Lazatin Angeles, nephew of Emmanuel Y. Angeles, then Commission on Higher Education chairman.

VINDICATION - In her marching order, President GMA’s instruction was to evaluate the Al Kharafi proposal within moral and legal parameters. When GMA finally learned that my objections were in order and in approving the proposal cannot stand legal scrutiny, and furthermore will disadvantage the Philippine government, I was promoted and appointed director of Bases Conversion Development Corporation. I stayed in BCDA till I resigned in December 2013, spending three years in the Aquino government.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on June 05, 2014.

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