POSTSCRIPT / September 22, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let’s open Naia-3 first, go after the crooks later

GREED WAYLAYS SOLUTION: The dust kicked up by the Piatco fiasco is such that the public is more aware of the problem than the solution.

There is actually a solution and it looks beneficial to all the parties — the government, the public, and the shareholders and suppliers of Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco).

The only thing that stands in the way is greed, the very element that doomed what otherwise would have been a showcase project.

Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport which is in the eye of the commercial-legal storm is almost completed. Why don’t we focus first on opening the terminal, and go later after the crooks with everything we’ve got?

Once we solve this key problem, we can go to the collateral issues including the matter of who got paid what by whom. It will take years to send people to jail. Before that happens, if at all, we should get busy doing what is doable right now right here for the benefit of the country.

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FRAPORT FORMULA: There is what looks like a win-win solution. The foreign investor in Piatco, Fraport AG of Germany, has offered to the government the termination of the Piatco contract for $400 million. Fraport wants to walk away from its problems with the Chengs who have more say in Piatco than the $16.5 million they have put in.

Fraport has spent $375 million, but is offering to get paid only $300 million. The balance from the $400 million will pay off the Chengs and other shareholders, creditors, suppliers, and contractors.

The German firm will lend us the $400 million on terms that not even the Philippine government can get abroad. In the first three and possibly five years, the government need not pay a single centavo.

During this grace period, the government is supposed to bid out the project and raise the money to pay Fraport. But even then, Fraport is willing to get paid over a 15-year period. In other words, nagpapagisa sa sariling taba ang Fraport just to get rid of their partners the Chengs.

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END TO RAW DEAL: Terminating the contract means we would no longer be bound by its outrageous provisions.

The $20 terminal fee would go down again to around P500; Clark, Subic and Sangley could be developed as airports or cargo terminals without the “hostage” provisions in the Piatco contract; areas around Terminal 3 could freely put up hotels and shopping malls (yes, they now are not allowed to compete with those that Piatco would put up at the NAIA).

The litany of onerous provisions goes on until you realize the contract boils down to being the best documented rape of this nation.

The only deal-breaker here is if the Chengs don’t give way. If its press releases and the statements of some government officials and members of Congress are any indication, the Chengs do not want to let go. They want to renegotiate.

A problem is that talking terms with the same characters could mean politics and greed (they have become almost synonymous) getting in the way again.

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CLIMACO ON THE JOB: The solution offered by Fraport is so far the best solution on the table. Let the Chengs and/or Fraport put up their own groups and bid for the project on their own if they want.

Based on the performance on record of Secretary Gloria Tan Climaco, the bidding will be most transparent and clean. Unfortunately for her, for trying to clean up the house, she will, as she does now, get flak.

The President has been putting in place known doers and Climaco has been assigned the big strategic projects. Despite the bombardment she has been getting, Climaco appears bent on finding an equitable solution to the Piatco problem.

Even her own detractors concede she has a first-class mind and is a first-class worker. That is the reason why she rose to become the youngest and only lady chairperson of the giant SGV and consequently the No. 1 accountant-auditor of the country.

This is the reason why Piatco’s claimed expenses cannot pass muster. You replace Climaco, Piatco will throw a party.

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HOW SAFE IS NAIA-3?: This question is best answered by another: without Fraport, which is the airport expert, who will run Terminal 3? The Chengs? Given all the shortcuts taken by them, how safe do you think are you at the airport?

The glass you lean against is thinner than the original specifications and could shatter if hit by a blast of a jet engine. The lights could conk out at night as planes land because the switches were made, yes, by big companies, but not by the companies certified to be the best and most competent as originally specified.

Aside from safety, we cannot help but shake our head at the desecration of Nayong Pilipino. This was not part of the contract.

The original contract required Piatco to build a tunnel connecting the new terminal to the present cargo area. Without this access, airlines have no way to transport their cargo to the warehouses unless they are allowed to jaywalk across the runway — an extremely dangerous operation.

Instead, Piatco had its contract changed. It dropped the tunnel, saved P800 million in the process, and proposed a surface road that incidentally needed almost nine hectares of Nayong Pilipino. Somebody in government agreed, uprooted the trees and readied everything, but until now, work has not begun.

Piatco has been saying it is ready for business by Nov. 26. But how can the airlines take their cargo to the warehouses?

We must land the big fish all right. But for now, let us focus on the solution and the opening of Terminal 3.

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SKYWAY OBSTRUCTION: It seems to many motorists that instead of easing traffic on the ground, the Skyway built atop the Makati-Bicutan grade section of the South Luzon Expressway is actually one of the reasons for the monstrous traffic in the area during rush hours and rainy days.

Southbound traffic flows efficiently enough on the well-paved ground-level three-lane road, even at peak hours, but vehicles start crowding and drivers have to claw their way through as they merge pell-mell into two lanes near the Bicutan exit.

Reason: The steel structure holding up the Skyway’s exit at that point poses a permanent obstruction eating up one lane from the ground-level section. Though not in the original plan, this temporary exit was built when the Skyway’s construction was prematurely terminated at that point.

The irony is that it is sometimes faster to travel on the ground than on the more expensive (by 177 percent!) Skyway above it. The elevated road has too many stops.

First, southbound motorists going up the Skyway have to stop at the toll gate, sometimes having to contend with long lines at peak hours. Second, motorists waste more time at the bottleneck where three lanes merge into one near the terminal Bicutan exit. Third, motorists again line up to pay at the exit tollgates beyond Bicutan.

Versus these three stops, drivers using the ground-level road only stop once — at the exit where they pay toll together with those who had come down from the Skyway.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 22, 2002)

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