Abaya keen on Clark as main Philippine airport

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Sep 08 2012 02:19 AM | Updated as of Sep 08 2012 10:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Incoming Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) will pursue the plan initiated by outgoing Secretary Mar Roxas to transfer the country’s main airport to Clark in Angeles City.

“I think the direction is still to go to Clark and sell the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) complex,” he told reporters Friday.

He said the transfer to Clark would require the construction of a high-speed train system similar to Hong Kong’s Airport Express that would transport passengers from Metro Manila to the former US airbase in Angeles City.

“But Northrail is no longer an option. I think they are now winding down,” he said.

He was referring to the corruption- and irregularity-tainted Arroyo administration’s Northrail project funded by the Chinese government. It is said to be the most expensive rail system in the world.

“There has to be another high-speed rail project. The alternative is to initially have shuttle buses to transport passengers to Clark,” Abaya said.

He said proceeds from the sale of the NAIA complex would fund the transfer to and improvement of Clark International Airport.

Abaya also said he would pursue all of Roxas’ port and airport improvement projects that are already in the assembly line.

“We are going to get them out, implement them. The DOTC under Secretary Roxas has already put out newspaper advertisements inviting interested bidders,” he said.

He said among the airports to be improved are those in Cagayan de Oro City, Palawan and Tacloban City.

“In fact, Congressman Bem Noel has managed to increase the budget for the Tacloban airport,” he added.

He was referring to Rep. Florencio Noel of the party-list group An Waray, who chairs the House accounts committee and who hails from Tacloban City.

Noel said increased passenger traffic requires the improvement of their airport.

Abaya said he would support Roxas’ tack in funding big airport and port projects through the private-public partnership (PPP) scheme.

“I think Secretary Roxas injected the possibility of using ODA (official development assistance) or cheaper loans. The primary intent there is if you leave it totally to the private sector with their motive of bottom line profit, we might end up paying more. But if you bring in ODA cheaper loans in combination with private sector funding, that will drive down cost to our people,” he said.

As for the offer of the Ayala group and businessman Manuel Pangilinan to take over the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line along Edsa, the incoming DOTC chief said the proposal “is being evaluated.”

“It’s more of a finance issue, so the finance people should come in,” he said.

Again, as in other PPP projects, the matter of the cost eventually being shouldered by the people comes into play, he stressed.

Thus, he added that there is also a proposal for the government to buy the Edsa train system, which is anyway majority-owned by two state banks – the Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank.

To keep fares low, taxpayers are subsidizing the operation of the MRT to the tune of P5 billion a year. The train system transports between 400,000 and 600,000 passengers every day.