Still on the Cebu airport
As a young man, recalls Sen. Serge Osmeña, he drove his father, the late senator Sergio Osmeña Jr., to the old VIP airport (on the site of Terminal 3) where his father boarded a small plane to Cebu with the late President Ramon Magsaysay. When he picked up his father later that day, he asked what the trip had been for, and his father said the group had made an aerial survey of the site of a proposed airport in Cebu, as an alternative to the old Lahug airport.
The proposed site was on Mactan Island, the “only large piece of flat land” in mountainous Cebu, says the senator. At the time, in the 1950s, there were fears raised about a possible attack from China which had just been bombarding islands near Taiwan. “My father believed it was time we built an airport farther away from Luzon, and urged the President to convince the Americans to fund the project,” he recalls.
Soon enough, the funding for the new airport fell through, and Osmeña remembers visiting the brand-new runway on an island where, save for the new terminal, “there was practically nothing else to be found.” The senator convinced a pilot to give him flying lessons, and it was on what would later be known as the Mactan Cebu International Airport that he learned enough to earn a pilot’s license.
That should explain the interest Osmeña has invested in the proposed redesign and expansion of the present airport. It’s an interest born of memory and emotional ties, true. But it’s also because, he says, “the Department of Transportation and Communications bungled its job” and awarded the contract to build to an undeserving bidder.
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OSMEÑA held two Senate committee hearings on the issue, and managed to delay the award of the project for about three months. He then most recently filed a suit at the Supreme Court seeking a temporary restraining order and/or a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the DOTC from issuing a “Notice of Award” on the project, and to disqualify the winning bidder, GMR-Megawide, from the roster of bidders.
The next day, the DOTC announced that it was formally awarding the Mactan Cebu airport project to GMR-Megawide. Osmeña says he is only waiting for word from the Supreme Court on whether and when hearings on the case will proceed.
For now, GMR-Megawide has 20 days to meet the postaward requirements, such as the submission of an irrevocable Letter of Credit (for P180 million) and the payment to the government of its P14.4 billion bid offer. During these 20 days, the Supreme Court division to which the case will be raffled may decide on whether it will issue the TRO that the senator requested.
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WHY is Osmeña so dead-set against the project award going to GMR-Megawide?
It’s not because, he insists, of alleged ties to the Cebu-based Gotianun family, which controls Filinvest, which in consortium with Changi Airport put in the second-highest bid.
Rather, says the senator, it’s because he believes that the DOTC “failed to follow its own rules” and erred in properly vetting both GMR, an airport construction firm based in India with projects in India, Istanbul and Maldives, and Megawide, a new developer which Osmeña alleges has been remiss in its previous commitment in another PPP project involving the construction of classrooms.
“It could very well be a repeat of Piatco,” says
Osmeña, referring to the controversial and still-unsettled issues surrounding the construction of Naia Terminal 3. The contract for the airport’s construction was nullified, and despite international arbitration, matters have yet to be settled with finality.
To be sure, this is not the first time that GMR, the Indian firm, has met with resistance on an
Indian project. An Internet search showed that its Male airport project in Maldives has been
scuttled, although even the president of Maldives conceded that the scrapping of the project had been “highly politicized.”
His main target, says Osmeña, are the officials of DOTC, especially the members of the pre-qualification bids and award committee, who failed to disqualify GMR-Megawide despite various issues concerning GMR’s financial stability and track record. “All I needed to do was to get on the Internet to discover all the issues raised against GMR,” says Osmeña. “And from there, it was a simple matter of digging up more information. Why couldn’t the committee have done that?”
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IT WAS a rather unpalatable topic that was featured at the “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” media forum this week. The topic? Toilets—and the toilet habits of Filipinos and other nationalities. It was a good thing that the presentation of the resource people took place after everyone had had lunch.
The occasion was the launch of “One Million Clean Toilets Movement,” a campaign to educate the public on the health impacts of germ-free toilets, with the aim of securing one million pledges to “conscientiously maintain clean, safe and hygienic bathrooms.”
The “One Million Toilets” campaign is being waged by Domex, a household cleaning brand, in partnership with Unicef and the Philippine Public Health Association.
Spokespersons mentioned the need not just to have working toilets that are properly cleaned to maintain public hygiene, but also to instill in Filipinos, especially children, sanitary habits such as the proper way of washing up and washing hands after using the bathroom.
The issue, they said, is not just a matter of cleanliness and comfort, but is also a major health concern as it could lead to such health problems as diarrhea. In the Philippines, they said, more than 2,000 children under five die annually from diarrhea.
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