23 years (and not counting)
Finally, the government has decided where an international airport to supplement (not replace) the Ninoy Aquino International Airport should be. It’s at Clark.
The only disadvantage of Clark is distance. And it is on the edge. A one-hour transit is about the max weary travelers wish to face. And Clark can be reached in one hour if — and it’s a critical if — the transport is there. Ultimately, that must be a high-speed train, and “ultimately” doesn’t mean another 23 years, but within five.
It can be done. In fact, it is being done as the request for proposals will go out later this year. The only problem is it only gets you as far as Tutuban in Manila. It must be the center of Makati. On that there’s a lot yet to resolve, right of way being a principal one, and space for a terminal another. But I’m sure the Ayalas will readily find room. It’s good for business.
Travel by road can be not much over an hour, too. The distance from Makati to Clark is 109 kilometers. An expressway from Balintawak to Mabalacat in Pampanga exists, with but a little bit to add at the Clark end to get into the terminal. The problem is Edsa to Makati. And that, as we’re all aware, is a big problem. But if Clark is to succeed, it is one that must be solved.
The bottom line is that it will be a too-long transit initially, but within international limits eventually.
As to the terminal, the basic design is already well on the way, and prebid documents have been released. A dozen or so companies, both local and foreign, have taken them. The terminal will be designed to handle eight million passengers annually. Currently, Naia can comfortably handle 31 million passengers annually (last year it was overcapacity at almost 40 million). So, between the two, the medium-term future should be okay. But a third closer to Manila will be necessary at some point.
The terminal will be offered in two parts: first construction, then operation and maintenance (O and M). Construction will be government-funded, and O and M will be under the public-private partnership scheme, funded and operated by the private sector. I’d rather it were all PPP, as the Cebu terminal was. It suits this project better.
The builder will have to be well capitalized and with previous experience, as the government won’t pay anything till completion. This will eliminate questionable bidders. Similarly, with O and M, the winner should have demonstrated competence in running airports of similar complexity. If it’s separate ompanies, the operator will be involved in monitoring construction, but it would be better if it was one company as it would ensure that the company that operates it knows how it was built.
Awarding of the construction contract is planned before yearend. And the BCDA management seems determined to meet that deadline. We’ll soon know. After 23 years I can be patient over a few months.
What I like about this is it’s the beginning of what I’ve long argued — relocating the nation’s capital. Manila is way over what it can handle (the world’s fourth most densely populated city) and with nowhere to go. Manila Bay hounds it on the left, Laguna de Bay on the right. And north and south offer little reprieve.
If Donald Trump has his way, Manila will be well underwater 50 years from now, and probably will be even if the world exercises some real pollution constraint. And it will never be a Venice.
The Department of Transportation is now headquartered at Clark. Last Friday Secretary Art Tugade and his staff raised the flag at the new headquarters; the rest of the head office staff will soon follow. There’s been some grumbling, but Clark is but an hour from Quezon City, where most of the staff live. Millions of Manileños would love to get to work in an hour. It’s not distance these days, it’s time.
I admit it’s tough on some for now, but it had to be done sometime. President Duterte’s team has the courage to do it. Add this to the 17-year delay in achieving fair taxes, an issue that is now being resolved, and maybe we’re beginning to see some true change. Not just fiddling at the edges for 23 years.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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