POSTSCRIPT / October 4, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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As GMA's Achilles heel, Mike Arroyo had it coming

MILKING COW: First Gentleman Mike Arroyo should not be surprised that he is being linked to a stinking scandal at the Sweepstakes, a favorite milking cow of whoever is in power.

He is forewarned that the political shelling will not abate, but will even escalate toward the 2004 presidential elections.

We have explained this political phenomenon before. With President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo apparently still impervious to innuendos of financial hanky-panky, the opposition will try to bring her down by shifting their firepower to her vulnerable husband.

Mike is a lightning rod attracting deadly bolts of sizzling charges. For some reason that we won’t explain at this point, many people are ready to believe stories about his alleged involvement in this and that mess.

It’s mostly a matter of perception. Unfortunately for him, whether the rumors about him are true or false, most people are likely to gobble them up.

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HE’S NO FIRST LADY: That was why we suggested way back that Mr. Arroyo better lie low, keep out of sight, and stop being a magnet for attacks. His wife’s fragile presidency being the highest consideration, he should be willing to curb his normal inclinations that could be embarrassing when exposed.

The First Gentleman should stop acting like a First Lady with a bleeding heart for the poor and the deprived. He cuts an odd figure playing that unlikely role.

The President’s husband should not have a hand in placing officials in sensitive (read: juicy) government posts. He should not allow the use of his name, influence or association for pushing major (read: juicy) contracts.

Maybe he should also close his law office and stop going to that same building on Perea Street in Makati.

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NOW, PIATCO’S SIDE: You’ve read the criticisms against the contract for the building and operation of the $500-million Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex by the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. Now we give you PIATCO’s side.

Details of the more controversial aspects of the giant project were explained to us Tuesday by Mark S. Mendoza, senior assistant to the PIATCO president.

Before we wade into technical figures, let us share Mendoza’s confident assurance to us that when Terminal 3 is finished by end of 2002, we would finally have a modern airport boasting of state-of-the-art technology and world-class efficiency. An airport we can be truly proud of, he added.

Being one who frequents the airport, among our first questions was if Terminal 3 would still confine welcomers to a holding area across the street peering behind bars like caged monkeys. What would happen when the entire barangay turns out in rented jeepneys to send off a relative on his first trip abroad?

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HANDLING PINOY QUIRKS: Such Filipino idiosyncrasies that had confounded airport designers have been considered, Mendoza said, by the designers of Terminal 3.

The designers included the American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merill, with inputs from FRAport of Germany and Japan’s Pacific Consultant International. Among the airports designed by Skidmore were the main terminal of Dulles international airport, Boston’s Logan airport, the San Francisco international airport, and the Kimpo international airport in Seoul.

(FRAport, in case you don’t know, is short for Flughafen Frankfurt/Main AG. If you’ve been to the mammoth Frankfurt airport, you could imagine what FRAport could make of our Terminal 3. FRAport holds 30 percent of PIATCO. With 10 percent held by Nissho Iwai Corp. of Japan, the remaining 60-percent controlling stock is Filipino-owned.)

How prepared would Terminal 3 be for the Filipino hordes that invariably turn up for the arrival or departure of dear relatives and making a mess of the best laid out plans of airport designers?

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MALLING GALORE: Anticipating that crowd, Terminal 3 was designed with a sprawling two-storey, sky-lit shopping atrium at the center of the concourse. No more peeing in stinking corners at the parking lot and pack-lunch despedida parties on the hoods of jeepneys.

The new terminal’s covered car park can accommodate 2,000 vehicles, while the open parking area can hold 1,200 vehicles.

In the main concourse, there will be retail centers (some of them duty-free) and food courts so the send-off crowd can go malling, shopping and eating till they drop dead. Of course there will be the usual amenities to take care of the 1,001 needs of the flood of humanity at the airport.

This seeming neat solution was not meant only to respond to the well-known shopping and eating habits of Filipinos. It’s obvious that the trick will add to the revenue of the imaginative operators of the giant airport cum mall cum park cum barangay.

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B.O.T. CONCESSIONS: The terminal is being built on 65 hectares of the Villamor airbase beside the present NAIA. It is designed to handle 13 million passengers a year (compared to NAIA’s 5 million capacity) and a peak day capacity of 33,000 passengers to be serviced by 140 fully automated check-in counters.

The terminal is more than a kilometer from end to end and has a floor area of 182,000 square meters in the Head House.

The project is covered by a BOT (build-operate-transfer) contract that automatically makes PIATCO the builder and operator since the group is financing it and is taking all the business risks. The contractor is given concessions since it is putting in the money that the government does not have.

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FAIR RETURNS FOR RISK-TAKER: Hearing the arguments back and forth, we think that private investors who risk their billions in exchange for a BOT contract are hardly to blame if they are able to extract concessions from the cash-strapped government wanting to pursue an urgent project.

If there is any onerous contract provision, blame should lie mainly on the government officials who negotiated or allowed it or who take advantage of their positions to get something illegal or unethical from the project.

After all, businessmen who are all profit-motivated will try to get as much as they can within the law and make their fair returns after taking all that risk.

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ALVAREZ ON THE SPOT: Transportation and Communication Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez may want to explain why a company identified with him has a subcontract with the PIATCO for some earthworks. How can he objectively assess the terminal project and the contract awarded to PIATC0?

Some PIATCO officials trying to defend Alvarez said his family’s company got the subcontract when he was not yet a Cabinet secretary. He was then a congressman, they told us.

But we also learned that Alvarez did not enter the picture entirely innocent. When he was congressman, he was reportedly the chairman of a subcommittee of the House committee that investigated the PIATCO deal.

Alvarez, who was previously a NAIA official, was also part of the team that conducted earlier studies on the project and made recommendations.

One time when he was with the House committee investigating the deal, Alvarez even wrote PIATCO a strongly worded letter telling it to explain certain alleged anomalies that his committee, he claimed, had unearthed.

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BENEFITS TO GOV’T: Mendoza summarized what he said were the benefits that the PIATCO project would bring the government:

  • The government gains a $500-million state-of-the-art facility.
  • The NAIA will nearly double its income from P812 million to P1.54 billion. This includes the annual guaranteed revenue of P510 million-P710 million, a 5 to 10-percent share on gross revenues, and a 36-percent share on terminal fees.
  • Once operations start, thousands of jobs would be generated. There would be increased commercial activities in the terminal and related facilities.
  • The expanded airport will be a big boost to tourism and the hospitality industry, as well as businesses related to the facility.
  • Passengers will be guaranteed improved safety and security.
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 4, 2001)

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