POSTSCRIPT / October 31, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Piatco races with gov’t on opening of NAIA-3

FULL OR SOFT OPENING?: Is Dec. 15 the start of full operations or just the date of a “soft” opening of the controversial passenger Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport?

This is not an idle question. Come the third Sunday of December, the question will have to be asked again. The answer could have far-reaching legal repercussions for all local and foreign parties involved in the $580-million project.

Malacanang has announced Dec. 15 as the “soft” opening date, meaning that there would be a ribbon-cutting, a brief program and a dry-run. After the guests leave and the janitors clean the area, the construction and the preparation for the nitty-gritty details of a fully operational international airport will continue.

But in the press releases of the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), the main contractor and projected operator of the terminal, Dec. 15 is billed as the day that Terminal 3’s full operations will start.

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GOV’T IN DEFAULT: The problem here is that in the likely event that the terminal cannot fully open on that date despite Piatco’s publicity that it is ready, the firm might just move to declare the government in default. Piatco could claim that it is ready and the terminal is ready but the government is not.

Default could mean the government’s having to pay a penalty of $50,000 each day of delay in the full opening of the terminal and its absorbing as its own liability the huge loans contracted by Piatco for the project in case the firm is unable to pay them because of the delay in the opening of the terminal.

The Piatco-generated publicity tends to give the impression that the terminal is complete, ready and is just waiting for the start of full operations on Dec. 15. This PR buildup could pass on to the government the blame for a failure to open the terminal on that date.

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NO TURNOVER YET: What happened last Sunday and which was splashed in the newspapers was merely a partial testing of some of the facilities and equipment in the airport and an inspection of the premises.

Officials of Takenaka Corp., one of three firms that built it, announced that their work inside and outside the terminal had been completed — but they did not turn the project over to Piatco despite its being supposedly complete. Work is still going on.

Even after the builders are able to turn it over to Piatco, the latter will have to go through its own process of double-checking all the details before turning it over to the government. Before that happens, Piatco will have to get the crucial certificate of completion from the proper government agencies.

An important phase would be the final system-wide tests of all facilities and equipment. For many international airports, system-wide tests usually take time, sometimes as long as five months, after all the gadgets are in place and linked up. It is hard imagining the terminal passing this test before Dec. 15.

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NO CARGO TERMINAL: Old hands at the airport are shaking their heads over the rush to force the opening, or give the impression of full operations being possible, on Dec. 15. They said that this is no place and time for improvisation.

One big question, for instance, is where to store the mountains of cargo arriving at the airport everyday. The warehouse being built by Piatco on the area for water-treatment was ordered stopped because it was not included in the approved plan. Questions were also raised on why Piatco, which is into cargo handling at the airport, should put up its own warehouse and monopolize the business.

Without a cargo terminal close to the terminal, some 30 tons of cargo will have to be hauled daily across the runway — a dangerous operation! — to the existing holding area. This problem of inadequate facilities for cargo has not been resolved.

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AIRLINES STILL WAITING: No airline has moved into the terminal despite its supposedly being complete. While spaces have been offered to them, it will take almost six months for most airlines to accept the assigned spaces, have plans approved by the home office, and build, furnish, equip and link them to the airlines’ network.

Some airline officials have said that it is problematic to transfer to new offices in December, which is a peak traffic month. If anything could go wrong in the shuffle, they said, it would.

With the attendant publicity buildup, any fumble will be magnified in the eyes of the watching world. Can we afford rushing into it despite the obvious lack of readiness at this point?

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OFFICIALS BLESS COMPLETION: We wonder if the government officials who attended last Sunday’s inspection knew that their presence could be interpreted as their being in agreement that the airport is ready for full operation.

A press release of Piatco said the officials present “found the terminal, which is designed to handle 13 million passengers annually, or 33,000 daily, to be amply commodious and its facilities and equipment to be up to date and fully and smoothly functioning.”

The officials were listed as Undersecretary Agustin Bengzon of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Commissioner Andrea Domingo of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, Clarissa Coscoluela, chief of staff and representative of Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, Director Jesus Versoza of the Aviation Security Group, NAIA 3 general manager Col. Guillermo Cunanan and Manila International Airport Authority project manager Emer Bonoan.

The terminal was built by the Piatco consortium composed of Philippine Airport and Ground Services Terminals Inc., Fraport AG Frankfurt Services Worldwide, People’s Air Cargo and Warehousing, SB Airport Investments, Philippine Airport and Ground Services Inc., and Nissho Iwai Corp.

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LAWS ON GMOs NEEDED: The Senate is being prodded by the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as the immediate next step in protecting Filipinos from the movement and the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.

The protocol acknowledges the concerns raised by governments on the harm that GMOs may inflict on human health, the environment and biological diversity. It was signed by the Philippine government soon after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and ratified a year later.

Beau Baconguis, genetic engineering campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: “Our Philippine negotiators have done their part by signing on to the agreement in May 2000. Now, it is the turn of the Senate to prove that they have the political will to take action against the potential risks brought about by products of modern biotechnology.”

Tests by a Hong Kong laboratory have shown that contamination of the Philippines’ food supply with GMOs has already occurred. Greenpeace listed 47 products including baby food, processed meat products, snacks, cereals and other food items that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

Greeenpeace said there must be a law to require labeling so responsibility and liability can be clearly traced in case GMOs have ill effects on consumers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 31, 2002)

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