POSTSCRIPT / November 8, 2011 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ninoy name to replace Dadong at Clark airport?

SELL NAIA: Another major decision of President Noynoy Aquino that is likely to trigger political debate is the projected transfer of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to Clark Field some 100 kilometers away in Pampanga.

The most daunting problem here is not engineering but financing, how to raise the billions needed for the idea to take off. The standard 1-2 formula for solving that is: (1) Reduce the problem to pesos/dollars, then (2) raise the money.

The bulk of the problem is more or less solved if the money needed — plus contingency expenses and, of course, the usual commissions — is eventually raised.

Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas has addressed the financing problem. He said the government would sell the prime NAIA site in Pasay to raise the billions needed. That makes sense to most people, especially those jockeying to acquire the land.

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RAIL OR ROADWAY?: What remains hanging is how to transport daily the thousands of airline passengers between Clark and Metro Manila in not more than 40 minutes one-way.

That requires another 1-2 solution: calculating the cost, then raising the money to buy right of way, relocate houses and build the rail tracks or roadway (whichever route is chosen first).

The engineering aspects can be adjusted, depending on how much money is available for all those waiting to be paid and what timeframe is imposed.

A major time constraint is that President Aquino must deliver something operational before he steps down in 2016.

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NORTHRAIL MESS: The original plan was to build a double rail track more or less following the northbound line of the Philippine National Railways. For this project, called NorthRail, a huge dollar loan was secured from Japan.

But it appears that much of the funds have been frittered away, tra-la-la, without much to show for it except bulging pockets.

That fastbreak occurred during the past Arroyo dispensation, but, miracle of miracles, President Aquino did not drop the NorthRail project as corrupt. He is now reportedly seeking another loan for it, also from Japan.

Assuming we can raise fresh billions, in the process hocking the future of our grandchildren still unborn, that is not the end of the movie in my mind. I see politics about to make its usual entrance anytime to spoil the scene.

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MOVE OVER, DADONG?: Even before the lucky contractors are able to build the terminals and related structures in Clark, a political storm might hit the area and derail, or at least delay, the projected transfer.

When we move NAIA to Clark, what do we actually transfer?

As in showbiz, there will be the big howling debate over billing.(Billing here does not refer to who gets the fat commissions, but whose names go where, and how big they will be.)

Will the name Ninoy Aquino International Airport stay in Pasay, where Ninoy was executed by state assassins in August 1983 at the tarmac of what was then called the Manila International Airport?

Or will the revered name of President Noynoy’s father replace that of former President Diosdado Macapagal whose name now identifies what is coming up as the country’s premier international airport?

Too bad for Cong Dadong that he happens to be the father of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the most despised political enemy of Noynoy Aquino.

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LONGISH NAME: How will his cabalens and the political opposition take it if the name of Cong Dadong, a non-controversial president, is replaced with that of a president the Philippines never had?

We cannot have a longish name Diosdado Macapagal-Ninoy Aquino International Airport (or vice versa) wrapped around the façade and the side of the terminal. We can make it blink or sparkle to look like a giant signature Christmas decor, but that still will not sell it.

Before we forget, the main reason why NAIA (MIA) was named after Ninoy Aquino was that he was gunned down right there in Pasay upon his return from exile. Do we have him shot all over again in Clark to justify using his name again at another place of execution?

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CLARK WHO?: Somebody said we can scrap both NAIA and DMIA and update the name to Noynoy Aquino International Airport and paint it yellow. Puede rin, except that I think there is a law, or a superstition, against naming public structures after living persons.

Para walang away, others suggested calling it Clark International Airport na lang. After all, they added, Clark is recognized in the IATA list of destinations and in the tagging of luggage as CRK (short for Clark).

Who is Clark in the first place? Surely not Clark Kent (aka Superman) of the Daily Planet, he is presumably an American somebody, maybe an ace US Air Force pilot.

But never mind IATA, Superman and baggage. Why dump an illustrious former president and a beloved native of the place in favor of a Clark somebody whose background still has to be researched?

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DOABLES FIRST: So what do we do now, aside from prattling over trivia and billing?

We can adopt the approach suggested by former Bataan congressman Felicito Payumo, now chairman of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority. He proposes doing first the doable tasks, picking the low-hanging and ripening fruits instead of overreaching.

The name DMIA can be retained in Clark, maintaining the status quo, and the major terminal there named Ninoy Aquino Terminal. That looks fair enough, less controversial, and immediately doable.

As for the rapid Clark-Manila link, while we look for the billions to continue NorthRail (hoping the money is not stolen again), we can build an alternative rail line in the middle of the North Luzon Expressway that is cheaper and faster to build, completing it before PNoy steps down.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 8, 2011)

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