POSTSCRIPT / October 3, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Noli, FPJ chasing GMA in Palace’s tracking polls

PALACE TRIPS FERNANDO: Wittingly or unwittingly, Malacanang has just cut down the effectiveness of Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority.

By announcing that Fernando looms as the best choice as vice presidential partner of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she runs in 2004, the Palace has drawn to him the firepower of political assassins.

Aside from his no-nonsense approach to Metro Manila problems, one other winning quality of Fernando is his“trabaho lang” (it’s just a job) image. Unmindful of the ire of the sectors affected by his metrowide cleanup, he gives an impression of nonpartisanship.

But when the President’s political adviser Jose Ma. Rufino said that BF may be considered as GMA’s running mate in 2004 because of his high rating in the Palace’s tracking polls, he opened the MMDA chairman to suspicion that he is politics-driven.

Rufino could have just said that Fernando has been doing a good job and is rating high, period. He did not have to add that the MMDA boss was a likely running mate of GMA.

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NOLI JUMPS TO NO. 2: Re that Palace tracking poll, an insider told us that with GMA still with a comfortable lead in the upcoming presidential campaign, broadcaster-turned-senator Noli de Castro is coming in second and action star Fernando Poe Jr. placing third.

The polls, with a margin of error of 3-5 percent, are conducted regularly by an independent group to track public perceptions on issues and personalities. The group has a nationwide network in place as it also does field work for big polling agencies.

The source told us that resigned Education Secretary Raul Roco and Sen. Edgardo Angara are with the lead pack, but are not close enough to Noli de Castro and FPJ. They do not appear to be a threat to GMA, he added.

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NOV. 26 SHOWDOWN: Watch Nov. 26, which has become the day of reckoning for the controversial NAIA Terminal 3.

The Chengs (60 percent) of NAIA-3 builder Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) are dead set on opening the terminal on that date, while Malacanang is against throwing open to world air traffic a sensitive project that is not ready for the hordes of pre-Christmas arrivals.

Secretary Gloria Tan Climaco, presidential adviser on strategic projects, said that with its deficiencies and deviations from the approved specifications, there is no way that Terminal 3 can be opened on Nov. 26. Considering all the problems, a safe inaugural date would be around March, she added.

If the Chengs force its opening on Nov. 26 and the government balks or fails to fulfill its assigned tasks in running the airport, Piatco is likely to have the government declared in default and penalized $50,000 per day.

The flipside is: If Piatco is unable to open and operate the terminal by end of the year, the government is likely to declare the firm in default and take over the $500-million project.

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VARIOUS SCENARIOS: With such an impasse, one side may opt to go to a body in Singapore for compulsory arbitration. The process involves mainly an objective third party looking at the contract and talking with the contending sides, then rendering a binding decision.

But with a litigation epidemic running wild in Manila, we cannot discount the probability of at least one of the parties suing in court with the other side responding in kind.

In any case, the Philippines will come out of the melee with its international image in tatters. And while everybody is arguing, the giant project will have to sit idly by and aviation progress bypasses Manila.

The worst scenario is for the government to nullify the Piatco contract, file charges and clean the slate. But there are quiet moves to settle the dispute. The Chengs want a renegotiation.

A suggestion of Fraport AG of Germany, the main partner of the Chengs in Piatco, is for it to withdraw in favor of the government, lend $400 million to the government to buy out Fraport for $300 million and use the $100-million balance to buy out the Chengs and pay suppliers and creditors.

The Chengs whose equity in Piatco is $16.5 million is reportedly willing to sell out, but at double its investment.

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SECURITY PROBLEMS: Aside from serious deviations from the approved specifications, the airport is reportedly plagued by security problems.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is reported in the industry as poised to downgrade NAIA to Category 2 because of security lapses. This means that airliners flying out of Manila may be barred from landing and unloading in US airports because of security risks.

Sources said the FAA also disapproves of the building by the Chengs of a shopping mall in the airport as the resulting human traffic is likely to spawn security nightmares.

Another item on the FAA scrutiny list is the computer system installed which, according to sources, was not according to specifications. A substandard system may compromise airline safety, mess up handling of passenger and cargo and other operations heavily dependent on a computerized network.

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PIATCO SETS TEST RUN: But a Piatco spokesman said these fears are unfounded, saying that everything is set for the Nov. 26 opening.

Where did that date come from? A Palace source said Nov. 26 was not in the contract and was just arbitrarily chosen by the Chengs to force the early opening of the terminal.

It is not clear how the private contractor by itself can formally open an airport without the government cooperating. Among other things, the terminal will need a certification of completion — which the government may hesitate to issue if it is not convinced that everything is in place.

Then the government will have to assign customs and immigration personnel, among others. Why will the government do this if it believes the terminal is not ready?

Despite the doubts raised, Col. Guillermo Cunanan (ret.), Piatco’s newly-appointed NAIA-3 general manager, announced that a committee would make a test-run and review of all the safety features of the terminal to assure its opening on Nov. 26.

He said the committee will include representatives of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA); the Japan Air Consultants (quality insurance inspector), Takenaka Corp. (general contractor); the Air Transportation Office, and Piatco.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 3, 2002)

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