Wednesday, 26 September 2007

That Airport Obsession


Airport talk, more particularly that of the one proposed at Panglao Island has been in discussion in government and NGO circles since early nineties. (On a personal note, I can still remember May Blanco, then with the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, who did a research paper on the Panglao Island Tourism Estate and its potential effects). It has resurfaced time and again and is currently a major news item in Tagbilaran recently with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) avowing to finish the project before her term ends.


PGMA seemed to be very insistent with the airport project. On 29 December 2004, she created a project management office for the Panglao Airport Development Project (Memorandum Order No. 157). Roughly seven months after, she signed Memorandum Order No 178 that sought to establish the Panglao Tourism Special Infrastructure Program with the development of the airport a major function. Very recently, she announced a timeline for its completion.


Governor Aumentado, Bohol’s chief executive, is equally insistent as well, if not even more. In August 30, 2005, the Bohol provincial government website reported that Gov. Aumentado assured that the Swedish International Development Agency will fund the Proposed Panglao Airport Development Project (PADP). However, this was denied later by representatives of the Swedish government (Bohol Chronicle, 11 September 2005). It was also reported that Gov. Aumentado was “angered by the comment” of Mactan Airport General Manager Yap that an international airport in Panglao will just be a white elephant and would increase the Philippines’ foreign debt (Sunstar, January 5 2006). But very recently, the airport project seemed to near its initial realization, at least, as Gov. Aumentado announced that 73 million pesos were already released to purchase lots for the airport construction (Bohol Chronicle, 29 July 2007).

Several objections have been sounded off from different sectors regarding the airport construction. Resort owners and barangay officials near the airport site consulted on the matter voiced out comments on dislocation of residents, “luring sex workers to the province”, economic infeasibility, tampering of the island’s landscape, and noise pollution that would ultimately affect the tourism industry, the very industry that was seen to be a beneficiary of the ambitious development project. (VGO News, 17 April 2006). Experts have also expressed the finding that Panglao Island is geologically unsafe for an airport (Gov.ph News, 3 July 2005).
Despite these concerns however, nobody is paying attention. Why?


There seems to be a sense of urgency in the airport project. PGMA promised to finish the airport before her term ends while Gov. Aumentado expressed optimism that the deadline will be met. It is just very confusing why a project such as this, would be as urgent as it has been made, eclipsing all other infrastructure needs of the island province.

The main justification for the construction of the airport was to accommodate the “growing need” of the tourism industry in the province. PGMA’s Memorandum No. 178 did not make explicit what that need was but several reports have pointed to increased tourist arrivals as a justification for airport construction. Or is it?


How persuasive is this justification? Have tourist arrivals increased dramatically that the Tagbilaran airport can no longer accommodate it? Was there any study ever conducted where foreign visitors to the province clamoured for flights directly to Panglao or Bohol? Granting that statistics data is accurate, is an increase of roughly 1,500 foreign tourists a year (or an average of 4 foreign guests a day) enough to make an international airport project an urgent priority? These questions need to be answered since a very expensive project as this can not be just left to “creative speculation”.


Second, if the justification is indeed persuasive, where are the figures to support the claim? Has anyone said anything about the project’s economic feasibility? What about return on investment? What about projected earnings versus borrowing costs? What about social hazards vis-à-vis social benefits? Who has ever conducted marketing, technical, socio-economic, financial, and management studies on this billion-peso project?


It seems that the airport project proponents have left essential questions out but have extensively dealt with trivial questions in the process. Here, we need not discuss advantages and disadvantages of airports because apparently, the need for one has not been established yet. Unless these critical concerns are answered first, going ahead with the airport construction is not realizing a dream but blindly giving in to a desperate obsession.

2 comments:

ccc said...

.... this might change the tide, towards a well-balanced growth for Bohol.. keep up the thought provoking & educating "Analysis" Sir Miko! ... - ccc

Anonymous said...

panglao airport is a long way to go. there was a press release last week that the regional development council has approved the project and that acquisition of lots is on full blast. the press release further stated that bidding for the civil works will start on the first quarter of 2008 and construction will commence on july 2008 in order to complete the project before the term of the sitting president. Wow, even superman can not achieved this goal.this bohol politician who is spearheading this project is giving false hopes to the boholanos that this airport will be completed by 2010. my guess, we are lucky if we complete this airport in 20 years. I would even bet that this airport will never be built.

I am not against building an international airport in panglao or in any other place in bohol per se. I am just irritated by the promises, as usual, of this bohol politician, that this airport will be completed soon.

Here are the reason why its a long way to go before this airport comes into existence.

1. Funding, as we speak, there is no funding yet for the civil works and the terminal building. Assuming we get an ODA loan today like from the world bank or adb, there is a long process like signing a loan agreement which takes a least a year, then the lender will require the borrower to hire a consultant who will design and prepare the bidding documents. In selecting a consultant alone, it will take at least a year to implement since hiring a consultant must be thru competitive bidding also. Once the competitive bidding of the consultant has been done, it will be submitted to the bank for their no objection which takes months. In fact, every milestone in the bidding process needs the bank no objection before it can proceed to the next stage. Once the contract with the consultant is signed, a letter of credit will be open which takes at least another 3 months. Oh boy, hiring a consulatant alone takes years to complete.

2. NEDA board approval, i check the Neda website and the status of the project says 'proposed". The project hasnt even passed the first stage approval process at NEDA. dadaan pa eto ng ICC-TWG, ICC cabinet level. In the first place, i even doubt that a techno-economic report, a basic reuirement, has been submitted to NEDA.

I would not discuss other issues such as the unstable ground condition of the island, construction time of at least 5 years, power reuirements of the airport because the above explanation alone shows that the airport can not be completed in 2010.

But it is possible that this airport can be completed within the reign of this sitting president because she will perpetuate herself in power. he, he, kapal mukha niya eh. dapat bigyan iba tao magiging presidente