Backseat

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By Noel G. Tulabut

My Palm Notes

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


IS CLARK taking a backseat? Again?

I could only pity the time, talent and treasure that has been put in its airport by both the government and the private sector.

Twenty years ago, we leaped with great joy when then President Fidel Ramos issued Executive Order 174 which designated Clark as the site of the country’s next premier gateway. But leaping is all that we can do as the joy vanished too soon..

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Somewhere along the way something went really bad such as the PIATCO (Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. – the builder of NAIA 3 terminal) deal. This accord stipulated that no airport in Luzon will be developed unless NAIA 3 has acquired a 10-million passenger capacity for three consecutive years.

Now, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) has reportedly been pushing for the development of the Sangley Airport in Cavite that would cost billions of pesos if and when this proposal gets implemented.

This is why major stakeholders like Pampanga businessmen are up in arms for the nth time.
Businessman Rene Romero, vice chairman of Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (Pamcham) is not satisfied by merely verbally echoing opposition to a plan that may sidetrack once again the full development of Clark’s airport.

He went ahead to formally voice out such a valid and nagging problem by writing a letter addressed to the Regional Development Council, a sounding board for government policies and programs.

Recent report filed by colleague Rey Navales quoted Romero saying that the government will be spending about $10 billion “of taxpayer’s money” to build a new airport at Sangley – an amount that could well suffice to make Clark airport one of the most modern and complete gateways in Asia.

In his letter dated July 10, 2014 to RDC-Central Luzon Chairman Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado, Romero asked the council to pass a resolution opposing the DOTC's plan to relocate the country's international airport to Sangley.

"The recent news report citing the Department of Transportation and Communication’s announcement of the adoption of the Jica recommendation to build Manila’s next international gateway in Cavite, in particular at Sangley Point, on the heels of the public declaration of the P271 billion North to South Commuter Railway linking Calamba, Laguna and Malolos, Bulacan, had ostensibly directed development opposite the North Luzon Regions," Romero stated.

While I may not agree to the observation that this move pits Central and Northern Luzon against Cavite and the rest of Southern Luzon, I would, however agree to save taxpayers’ money by improving on the existing airport like Clark instead of building a new one with all the necessary support infrastructure like navigational aids, radar system, transport stations, expressways and roads – all that should be put in place from scratch.

Clark has all these amenities. Principal of which is its two parallel runways which are about 2.5 kilometer each, a newly expanded passenger terminal, the SCTEX which connects Clark to major points – all these sprawled in an uncongested 2,600 hectares of land that could accommodate a third runway and an expansion.

"We are baffled by the inclination of our government to spend exorbitant amount of taxpayer's money on the construction of another airport when the manifestly under-utilized Clark International Airport is just awaiting expansion at an almost negligible fraction of the outrageous 10 billion US dollars earmarked for the Sangley airport construction," he said.

The recommendation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) for Sangley as the location of the new international airport "inordinately favors its proximity to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which is claimed to be approximately 20 to 30 minutes away," said Romero.

He said that the DOTC should consider and evaluate other factors like the existing road infrastructures including the North Luzon Expressway, Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway, and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway that provides fast, safe and convenient connectivity between Metro Manila, Clark, Subic, and the rest of the North Luzon regions.

"It is highly improbable that such first-rate road facilities are already in place for the purported Sangley Airport," Romero said.

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To use the physical distance between Clark and NAIA as an argument against Clark is “stupid” said no less than business mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan whose Metro Pacific company has been known to be pursuing the full development of Clark’s airport.

“Clearly, Clark to NAIA is about 100 kilometers so that’s the perception. We probably have the longest distance for any pair of airports in the world as indeed we probably do, but I find it a very stupid argument because technology has moved ahead to make distance agnostic,” Pangilinan said in a business forum in Clark last week.

That stance is shared by a lot of people, given today’s technology and the physical connectivity of major thoroughfares like NLEX and SLEX, the 100-kilometer distance will not be a factor anymore soon as it would cut travel time significantly.

Travel time is more essential than the measurement of the actual distance, Pangilinan furthered. “It (distance) doesn’t matter… what you do is to speed up the land travel like having a train system,” he added.

Probably taking note of the rumblings on the ground in Central and Northern Luzon, the DOTC announced in newspapers just yesterday that a proposal to build a P7.2 billion terminal for Low Cost Carriers will be presented next month to the National Economic and Development Authority.

That’s in Philippine Peso -- just in case you missed reading it, while the Sangley ballpark figure is in US Dollars.

“We see Clark International Airport (CRK) as a premier gateway alongside NAIA and Sangley, especially in view of its rapid growth over the past few years, as well as government’s development plans for the entire economic zone and the rest of the region. This is the direction we are taking for presentation to the President, for his consideration,” the DOTC statement quoted Secretary Jun Abaya as saying.

With such statement, it’s now a Manila-Clark-Cavite triune airport approach by the government “for decades to come” as the statement conveyed.

Probably the wisdom behind the three airport system may have been based on the existing set-up in New York-New Jersey area with Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark international airports complementing each other.

So whatever happened to the twin airport system being proposed or being announced to be the policy? I guess that did not fly.

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"Extremely patient and forbearing of the procrastinated declaration and full development of the Clark International Airport as an international gateway to the Philippines, twin and parallel to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I remain steadfast in the belief that one day, our government will eventually realize the wisdom and expediency of our appeal for Clark," Romero added in his letter.

Twenty years and counting. Such patience indeed. To the extreme.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on July 23, 2014.

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