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Manila's airport ambitions down from 3 to 1 with Sangley setback

Manila's airport ambitions down from 3 to 1 with Sangley setback

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines’ contentious plan to have four separate airports servicing Metro Manila and neighboring provinces just hit a fresh setback that would likely benefit tycoon Ramon Ang’s sprawling new gateway north of the capital.

On Wednesday, the Cavite provincial government brought plans to develop the Sangley International Airport to the drawing board, revoking an initial agreement with Lucio Tan-led MacroAsia Corp. and its Chinese backers from China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC).

“The Cavite provincial government Special Selection Committee has recommended the non-approval of the redevelopment of the former airbase as presented by applying parties,” Governor Jovic Remulla said in a Facebook post.

Remulla’s announcement came on the heels of another rejection, this time from the national government to Megawide Construction Corp. and Indian partners appealing to renovate the aging Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The P109-billion NAIA Project is now similarly open to new bidders.

The back-to-back scrapping of airport projects has left San Miguel Corp. the lone running on the Philippines’ bid to augment a congested NAIA, part of a broader infrastructure agenda as well as efforts to attract foreign tourists as soon as the pandemic subsides, and foreign travel is restarted convincingly. That is after Clark International Airport finished renovations recently to boost capacity.

San Miguel scored a legislative franchise last year that sealed not only a 25-year license but generous tax perks to build a P734-billion airport in Bulacan, about 2 hours north of Manila. Once built prospectively by 2025, the new airport is projected to accommodate 100 million flyers a year.

Apart from this, San Miguel also wants to rehabilitate NAIA, although Ang earlier said he sees the airport closing in 10 years.

As of 11:30 a.m., shares at MacroAsia were trading down 1.08% to P5.87 apiece, while that at San Miguel were down 2.19% to P125.10 each. 

Until now, there were fears the government decision to allow numerous airport projects to proceed in Metro Manila and nearby areas would result into excessive capacity serving a limited number of travelers each year. Originally, NAIA, the Clark Airport, Bulacan Airport and that in Sangley would be running simultaneously over the long-term. Builders had downplayed concerns of overcrowding. 

For Remulla, Sangley remains a viable location for an airport and would start negotiating with other interested bidders for the project. But timeline is tight because by October, election season would kick off with the deadline for filing candidacies for next year and by law, no new public project can be awarded 45 days before polls or starting March 2022. The same rule would apply to the NAIA Project.

Under the now-revoked plan, the first phase of the Sangley project was targeted to accommodate up to 25 million passengers each year beginning 2023.

“The selection committee will meet again in February and they will set a timeline,” Remulla said in a phone interview. Currently, no other party has expressed interest to the project.

Asked what prompted the revocation of MacroAsia-CCCC’s proposal, Remulla said his government had been asking for the tandem to secure board approval for their project, something the joint venture had said was hampered by the inability to fly to China because of pandemic travel restrictions. 

Following several extensions, he said the province could not wait any longer. “We have no recourse to extend it because it will also be in violation of provincial laws,” he said.