POSTSCRIPT / September 28, 2006 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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When it opens, NAIA-3 will be a decrepit airport

GOLDEN LAND: While appalled by a ceiling dropping and dust gathering at the supposedly “modern” Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we gawk at the splendor of the opening today of the newest international Suvarnabhumi Airport of Bangkok.

Suvarnabhumi (meaning “Golden Land”) Airport is a big push to making Bangkok, a rival twin city of Manila, and Thailand by extension the aviation hub of the region.

If by this time next year our ill-starred NAIA Terminal-3 is already open, it would probably look like a second-rate domestic airport in comparison. Look at the comparative data and weep.

Initially, Suvarnabhumi’s north section will accommodate 45 million passengers per year, 76 flights per hour and 3 million tons of cargo per year. When every detail is finally in place, its capacity will soar to 100 million passengers a year.

With its opening today 25 kilometers east of downtown Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi replaces Don Muang as the capital city’s primary airport for all commercial flights.

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LONGEST RUNWAY: We are still praying for two million tourist arrivals a year (we have included Balikbayan returnees to pad the total like we “dagdag” votes in elections), while Thailand has its hands, and hotels, full with more than one million warm bodies a month, or some 16 million spenders a year.

With its expansive 563,000-square-meter floor area, the passenger terminal of Suvarnabhumi is still the largest in the world. (Our Terminal-3 can fit under one of its wings. Only Hong Kong’s 570,000-square-meter terminal will beat it soon after it opens.

Civil construction of Suvarnabhumi started in 2002. It now boasts of the world’s longest runway, 75.3 meters by 4,000 meters long, and the world’s tallest control tower, 132.2 meters high, providing the best visual coverage of overall airside.

Its air traffic control center is equipped with state-of-the-art navigation and guiding systems that can manage, they claim, around 76 flights per hour using two parallel runways. A 2,200-meter-wide corridor separating the runways allows simultaneous takeoff and landing of aircraft.

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SHORT STRIP: Our poor NAIA, trapped in a congested area and surrounded by tall structures, has only one short bumpy runway. After Terminal-3 opens in the vague future, our planners may want to build more terminals around it, but that would just worsen the situation.

Managing an airport is like operating a restaurant. Even if you keep adding tables in the already congested dining area, if your kitchen can no longer be expanded or made more efficient, your resto business will remain stunted.

There is no way the present NAIA airstrip can be lengthened or widened to be able to take more and bigger planes and service additional terminals. We have no space for an additional or longer runway. We are stuck with our kitchen’s present size.

Here is another comparative detail to illustrate how bad we have been faring. The Thai baht, if you remember, was at par with our peso a few decades ago.

Both countries were hit by the same regional financial crisis in 1997, had similar political disturbances, traffic congestion, et cetera, but while the baht exchange rate with the US dollar is now 37.50, our peso is down at 50.50 to the greenback.

There are other comparative figures and developments, and they all point to a low score for the Philippines.

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NOLI’S REJOINDER: The lawyer of Vice President Noli de Castro said yesterday that the testimony of a former chairman of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal weakened the protest of the defeated vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda.

Lawyer Romeo Macalintal disputed the claim of Legarda’s lawyer that the Namfrel official’s statement bolstered claims of Legarda that she and her standard bearer Fernando Poe Jr. were cheated in Lanao del Sur.

Reacting to an item in the last Postscript, Macalintal said that the records of the PET regarding the testimony of Namfrel representative Abdullah Lacs Daligdig showed that “the Namfrel official copies of the returns from Lanao del Sur do not establish even the slightest hint of election fraud perpetrated against FPJ and Loren.”

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WILLING TO BE SHOT: Macalintal said in part: “The copies of the returns presented by Daligdig do not show nor reflect clearly the votes obtained by the candidates for President, Vice President and senators. Even Legarda’s lawyers admitted in open court that the entries on the copies of returns presented by Daligdig are not readable.

“Hence, there is no basis upon which Daligdig, Legarda nor anybody else, can anchor their claim of fraud.

“We challenge everyone to see what the Namfrel copies of the Lanao del Sur election returns really show. We challenge Ms. Legarda to show to the public authentic copies of said Namfrel returns.

“The statement of Daligdig that he is willing ‘to be shot by a firing squad’ if he is not telling the truth was an ‘outburst’ made by him when he was subjected to our camp’s intense cross examination. It was in no way an indication that election fraud did occur.

“When asked if he was given travel allowance by Ms. Legarda in coming to Manila, Daligdig said in an outburst that he is not telling a lie and that he is willing to be shot by a firing squad if he is telling a lie.”

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NOT LEGIBLE: Macalintal continued: “I would like to also point out that of the more than 30 municipalities in Lanao del Sur, Legarda only questioned two municipalities which were the only municipalities testified to by Daligdig. In these two municipalities, Legarda is merely contesting about 2,000 votes, which is not even material to overcome the significant 880,000 vote-lead of De Castro over Legarda.

“It was so impossible for Daligdig nor any Namfrel official to say that Legarda and FPJ were cheated in Lanao del Sur based on election returns from only two municipalities when this province is composed of 32 municipalities and a city.

“Furthermore, no Namfrel official could make such a complete tabulation because the Namfrel copies of these returns, being the last of the seven copies of a set of returnS, are usually blurred or their contents or data are not readable.”

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PHILCOMSAT ROW: Many an eyebrow had been raised over the Senate investigation into issues involving the Philippine Communications Satellite Corp. Last week, one of its committees looked into alleged financial irregularities at the Philcomsat.

But Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, a Philcomsat incorporator, zeroed in instead on Philcomsat Holdings Corp. (PHC) whose directors and officials he accused of mismanagement and dissipation of funds.

While Philcomsat owns 80 percent of PHC, they are two different entities with the latter being a publicly-listed corporation. Philcomsat is wholly owned by the Philippine Overseas Telecommunications Corp. (POTC), 40 percent (five percent is being contested by the Ilusorio family) of which is owned by the government.

But many observers could not see the logic in the Senate’s issuing warrants of arrest against almost all PHC board members while failing to issue one against Manuel Nieto Jr., the Philcomsat chairman who was also subpoenaed but also failed to attend the hearing.

What did Nieto have that the others — chairman Benito Araneta, directors Julio Jalandoni, Philip Brodett and Luis Lokin, and treasurer Manuel Andal — did not have?

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LOCSIN GRILLING: Senate insiders said that subpoenas were issued against Brodett and Lokin (which their lawyer Rene Saguisag said his clients did not receive). Was there an effort to prevent the PHC officials from attending so warrants of arrest could be issued against them?

With the grilling of PHC president Enrique Locsin, it would not be surprising if he now wished he did not show up. Considering the line of questioning by Senators Richard Gordon and Enrile, Locsin’s experience was a nightmare.

He was asked to explain alleged irregularities at the PHC, particularly supposed dissipation of funds. But he was quick to defend his company, saying that there is no debauchery of the PHC coffers and that, in fact, they were able to make it a more lucrative and stable business.

He said that from a P10-million business in 1996, PHC’s assets have reached P1.5 billion with no debt to its name. He said they were not only able to maintain their real estate assets, but were able to successfully operate a call center generating huge income.

On increased expenses in the last two years, Locsin said that was due to the operation of a call center requiring constant maintenance. But the returns are much more the maintenance costs, he said, since the PHC was able to dramatically increase its revenues because of the call center.

Why is the Senate suddenly interested in Philcomsat considering that its problems are merely an offshoot of the rivalry of two factions fighting for control not only of POTC and Philcomsat but also of the more lucrative PHC?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 28, 2006)

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