A new airport for Cebu | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

A new airport for Cebu

Sen. Serge Osmeña, in the course of hearings on the recently-awarded contract for the modernization of the Mactan Cebu International Airport, has derided the proposed design as a “glorified chicken coop.”

But viewing an artist’s concept of the final incarnation of the airport, I was struck by how light-filled the interiors would be, and how airy and modern was the “feel.” Certainly a far cry from the box-like, utilitarian structure that currently serves the country’s second major gateway.

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For a while, it had seemed that the Cebu airport project would not even get off the ground. After winning the bid—with an offer of P14.4 billion—last January, the proponent Megawide Construction, partnering with GMR Infrastructure of India, waited—and waited—for the awarding of the contract. But the next-highest bidder, Filinvest-Changi, raised questions about Megawide-GMR’s qualifications, including allegations of conflict of interest and doubts cast on the partnership’s ability to meet its financial commitments. Apparently, Filinvest-Changi had the support of the Osmeñas of Cebu, with Senator Serge holding hearings on the issue.

But on Friday, the Department of Transportation and Communications announced that it had finally awarded the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) project to Megawide-GMR.

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In a statement, Megawide-GMR said the “fair and timely award” of the project “will encourage other investors to take part in sustaining the economic gains made over the past several years, with not just Cebuanos but the entire nation as well” benefiting from the project.

As for the “glorified chicken coop” proposed design, Megawide-GMR defended the concept as reflecting “a modern expression of … traditional Filipino architecture [that] imbibes the cultural ethos of Cebu without sacrificing efficiency.”

Megawide executive Louie Ferrer, over dinner with some media women, disclosed that the company will be “closely collaborating” with Cebu-based and international architects and designers, which is only logical to my mind, since Cebu has emerged as the cutting-edge leader in industrial design, not just in these parts but globally as well.

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There is no question that Cebu needs—and deserves—a more modern, efficient and larger airport befitting its status as the transport and commercial hub of the Visayas while serving as a doorway to Mindanao.

Certainly, more planes would mean more tourists and cargo, and it seems only a matter of airport capacity to ramp up the tourist trade—already a major source of revenue—in Cebu and environs.

“We’re here for the long run,” assures GMR’s Andrew Acquaah-Harrison, who is Ghanaian and educated in the United Kingdom, with his family based in Singapore. GMR, he says, counts some 17,000 employees in three countries where they have had airport projects. He is proudest of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which ranked No. 101 in a global ranking of airports, but which, after GMR completed its construction work and began managing its affairs, has since risen to No. 4 after only four years.

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As for Megawide, which is a relatively new construction outfit compared to more venerable competitors, Ferrer cites the company’s experience and track record in both the private and public spheres. It is best known as the general contractor for a number of condominium projects undertaken by the SM Development Corp., but most recently also won a contract to construct 10,000 classrooms for the Department of Education—a contract it won “without too much controversy,” Ferrer notes.

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During the dinner, the Megawide-GMR representatives were assured that the travails they were going through (just a few days before the contract award) were nothing unusual, because objections raised by losing bidders were just about par for the course in bids for government projects.

That is one reason things move with glacial efficiency in infrastructure projects, and why most everything operates beneath the heavy cloud of political intrigue. But Ferrer, for one, testifies that their dealings with the DOTC have been open and aboveboard, and that, save for the loud objections raised by Filinvest-Changi and supporters, their game plan has proceeded as expected. Except, of course, for the fact that the project has been delayed for nearly three months.

Still, should things proceed smoothly from now on, Cebuanos—and all other Filipinos and our foreign guests—would surely benefit not just from a spanking new airport with an impressive design and (hopefully) more efficient operations, but also from the social and economic gains that more tourist arrivals, more air traffic, and more employment would generate.

Not bad for a “glorified chicken coop.”

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TAGS: Filinvest-Changi, GMR Infrastructure, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Megawide Construction
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