A pipe dream PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 23 February 2018 14:17

LOOKING IN

BY ROD BALBON

Just when all major cities in the country are building and sprucing up their respective new airports to accommodate the increasing number of air passengers, our airport has remained old and backward. The airport terminal is now almost thirty years and the plan to build a new and modern airport by transferring its location to a new site has remained a pipe dream.

The other day, the City Council passed a resolution addressed to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Office of the President, asking these offices to immediately complete the feasibility study of the new and existing airport. Our Councilors must have realized that our city needs a new and modern airport. The feasibility study started in May 2017 and is expected to be finished in August this year.

Airports are the gateway, the barometer of cities that would guide local and foreign tourists and businessmen of their travel and investment plans as it gives them an inkling of the cities’ social, economic, and political development. Our present old and backward airport tells us that our city has been left behind in terms of progress and developments and is now lagging behind many major airports in the country. Why we can’t put up a new and modern airport is a great conundrum.

I can still recall that sometime in 1999, Ayala Land Development Corporation, through its Zamboangueño Vice-President Lerry Ferrer, came to our city with the proposal and plan to put up a new modern airport. I was asked by then Mindanao Economic Adviser Lepeng Wee to accompany him to see the late Mayor Caling Lobregat to present their company’s proposal. Sad to say, the late Mayor did not even take a peep on the proposal and said that our city is not prepared for it.

The proposal was for Ayala Land Corporation to build a new modern airport, somewhere in Barangay Mercedes for free and in exchange, our present airport will be given to the corporation which will be developed into a modern commercial center, with tall offices and condominium buildings. Had this been worked out, we could have been ahead of Cebu City and Davao City in having an ultra modern commercial center. Just take a look at its UP Town Center built by Ayala. For me it’s the best, much better than those in the US and some industrialized countries.

Months later, the late Mayor Caling Lobregat requested me to tell then Erap’s Secretary of Presidential Projects, Roberto Aventajado, who was also our SPDA Chairman, if they could have a serious talk because she has two very important requests. Aventajado came to town and met the late Mayor at Lepeng’s rest house in Luyahan. There, Mayor Caling told Aventajado that first, she wants to put up a new public market and two, a new and modern airport to accommodate the growing passengers coming in and out of our city. With regards to the first request, Aventajado told the Mayor that it was illogical to operate our market when our city earns only more than a million in taxes and spends more than six million for its operation. Aventajado suggested that it would be wise to privatized it to avoid losses and unnecessary expenses. Anent the second request, Aventajado told the late Mayor pointblank that such multibillion project could not be done because the government has no money. So there goes our dream to put up a new airport.

Years before, there were monies appropriated by the national government for the transfer or repair of our airport, but this was never realized. The City Council then was against its transfer, arguing that its present location is the best—accessible and takes very little time to reach it and check in. Relative to this, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the construction of buildings higher than ten storeys in the city as this will accordingly endanger or impede aerial navigation. They surprisingly became technically knowledgeable in aerial navigation and spoke more than an aeronautic engineer. I think the ordinance is still in effect and has not been repealed. This is the reason why there are no high-rise buildings in our city and it looks flat when seen on the air. Then later when an appropriation was allocated for its major repairs and redesign, some Councilors again opposed it and argued that it’s a waste of money since our airport will anyway be transferred soon to a new location. We lost all these opportunities for a better, new, and modern airport.

Now, the feasibility study says it will take ten years for the transfer our airport. Many of us will be dead by that time and may never see it realized in our lifetime. But the imperative to build a new, modern airport is necessary to jump start our turtle-paced progress and development.