Senate panel OKs San Miguel's franchise to construct airport in Bulacan

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 23 2020 03:14 PM | Updated as of Sep 23 2020 04:06 PM

Exterior design studies for SMC's proposed New Manila International Airport project in Bulakan, Bulacan. Photo: San Miguel Corp/Handout

MANILA (UPDATE) - San Miguel Corp (SMC) on Wednesday received the Senate panel's go signal to start the construction of an airport in Bulacan, about 3 times the size of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The Senate Committee on Public Services approved the franchise application of San Miguel Aerocity, a 2,500-hectare development in Bulacan.

"We have been waiting for this for so long. This is a dream come true project," said Sen. Joel Villanueva, who hails from Bulacan.

"Walang gagastusin ang government dito. We'll be able to produce at least a million jobs. We're not even talking about indirect jobs," Villanueva said.

(The government will not spend anything here.)

"Ang laki talaga ng maitutulong nito sa bayan," he added.

(This will really be a big help to the country.)

Under the 2019 deal between the Department of Transportation and SMC, the P740-billion gateway will be fully owned by the government under a "build-operate-transfer"program, SMC president Ramon Ang said last year.

Several environmental groups opposed the proposed airport project, noting that the future airport's site is a former mangrove forest that is easily flooded during high tide in the Manila Bay.

The San Miguel Aerocity - and parts of Bulacan in general - is flood-prone because it is located in a "flat plane" surrounded by several rivers, Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary Renato Solidum said.

The area is "far away from the fault but it is prone to ground shaking," he said.

But Solidum noted that all these calamities could be avoided through "special engineering interventions."

San Miguel has spent billions to fund feasibility studies before the actual construction of the Bulacan airport, said Senate Committee on Public Services chair Grace Poe.

"A company will not invest billions of pesos without the assurance that this [airport] would not survive these [calamities]," she said.

Other members of the Committee backed SMC's franchise for the construction of the Aerocity, saying the new airport would decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which has been listed as among the world's "worst airports" in previous years.

"The hearing has been adjourned as the members of the Committee are supportive and many have recognized the benefits of this new project," Poe told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

"Just like with any other franchise, we will coordinate with the agencies for the submission of the required certifications so that we can now endorse it to the plenary," she said.

Under the law, SMC's franchise needs to hurdle plenary debates and complete all certifications from various agencies before it can finally begin building its planned airport in Bulacan.

Villanueva said he would "vote no" for the passage of SMC's franchise should the company include "casinos left and right" in the Bulacan development.