PAMPANGA

Sangil: Airport workers are restive

HUNDREDS of employees of Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) are restive. Their apprehension has a basis since officials of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) failed to explain the implications of the privatization of the operations and maintenance (O&M) of Clark Airport. Queried some CIAC insiders and I was flabbergasted to know that even to airport directors weren’t given any information about the whys and the wherefores of the privatization of the airport operations. This is somewhat unprecedented.

Big players, eight recently bought bidding documents for the 25-year concession agreement. It was reported in the papers that bid submission will be on July 20 and awarding by August this year. In short, some Clark Airport’s workers fate is sealed. Pink slips coming for sure. As far as I am concerned, privatizing operations of the airport is not really a wise move. It is more harmful than beneficial. In few years Clark Airport will achieve its targeted critical mass. This year 2.5 million passengers. In 2020 it can breached the 4 million mark. Policy makers shouldn’t ignore the fact though airport operation is business, but should not ignore the interests of the riding public. If operations will be in private hands, for sure to recoup their investments, and in this case the funds used for the terminal upgrade, commercial and airside fees will be shouldered by the airlines. And where do you think the airlines will source the increase. Minememorize pa ba yan?

Anyway, each administration has its own carved policy, possibly discussed within the confines of Malacanang or at the BCDA boardroom. We can’t disagree but we can air our own opinion in this regard. And it is only fair to assume that long hours of discussions were spent here. When BCDA awarded the engineering, procurement and construction contract worth P15 billion for the upgrade of the terminal building, they decided to flip the cost to another private group and this by way of privatization. If only government waited few more years, it could have easily paid the P15 billion.

RETRO. For many years there were serious efforts to upgrade Clark Airport but somehow these were stalled due to various reasons. I remember my talks then with Levy P. Laus, a former president of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and vice chairman of the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC). We recalled to and retraced 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.

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.

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, the late 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. 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, Levy 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 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.

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.


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