Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

With the NAIA accident as urgent game changer, PH has to get out of its lackadaisical and archaic mode and construct new, modern airports outside Manila, utilizing technology already time-tested by our Asian neighbors and BOLD FINANCING. A matter of urgency and political will for PH---NOW NA

Taipans Wilson Tieng and Henry Sy offer to operationalize Sangley Airport within one year

Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation proposes new airport in Bulakan, Bulacan

It had to take the skidding of a Xiamen Airlines on the one and only international runway at NAIA to shake up the whole nation last Aug. 16, as 200 flights had to be diverted to Clark and Cebu Airports as well as to Hongkong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok---disrupting over 500,000 domestic and overseas passengers (NAIA receives some 66% of PH's annual tourist arrivals of 6.5 million). An estimated P5 billion worth of damage to our economy and  shattered Filipino pride shook up the nation as nothing in recent decades. 

It was the GAME CHANGER---so that now the proposals of two giant business conglomerates to set up airports in two different areas of Luzon are finally being discussed with seriousness and urgency.

What's good is that the two conglomerates proposing these two new airports---the rebuilding of the Sangley Airport in Cavite by the All-Asia Resources and  Reclamation Corporation of the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng group, and the Bulakan, Bulacan Airport proposed by San Miguel Holdings Corporation of Ramon Ang--- feel they can CO-EXIST WELL as both giant companies are absolutely necessary for the country and could be quite profitable as well.


For years now, we have been complaining about our shameful airport facilities and dream about how to achieve world-class gateways to international tourism, which promises to draw 100 million here every year if the factors---principally air carriers in capable airports---meet international standards.

Reaction from government regulatory departments had been terribly slow over the years---vexing impatient the two giant groups seriously contemplating new airports. It was as if we were not in an emergency mode, whereas all our neighbors in the Asian region have been into reclaiming from the sea to accommodate more runways and ever-expanding airport terminals.

The NAIA accident had to happen perhaps so that government regulatory offices would now realize that we are in a super-emergency mode. We need to build new airports away from Manila---NOW NA.


Cecile Alvarez and I first interviewed Edmundo T. Lim, vice-chair of the All Asia Resources and Reclamation Corporation that's composed of Henry Sy's SM empire and the Wilson Tieng Group of Solar Entertainment. This consortium proposes to convert the old Danilo Atienza Airport at the former US naval base at Sangley Point in Cavite into a modern gateway to Manila, right next to the Cavite Economic Zone and Southern Luzon.

Edmundo Lim pointed out that it's imperative to operationalize Sangley as an expanded airport inasmuch as Clark Airport in its current condition is limited to handling only 4 million passengers a year---whereas NAIA last year handled some 42 million passengers. The total number coming to PH is expected to leap-frog over the next few years.


Lim pointed out that as early as 2013 their conglomerate was already proposing to work on Sangley airport but sadly, up to now no action has been done on it by government agencies. He stressed that the Sy/Tieng group is ready to expand the Danilo Atienza's existing US-made runway and put up another 2.4 km. long. runway that can handle both the Airbus 300 series as well as the Boeing 737s.

Lim stressed that Sangley's existing runway COULD BE OPERATIONAL WITHIN ONE YEAR,  and another runway could be constructed---all at a cost of P800 billion and fully operational in a minimum of five years---to handle 120 million passengers.  Part of this proposed runway would sit on 2,500 hectares to be reclaimed from the sea---a technology that airports in all our neighboring countries, especially HK and Singapore, have resorted to for decades.


Interestingly, long before the Xiamen accident happened at NAIA, a consortium of seven tycoons sought to rehabilitate that old airport at a cost of P102M to P350M over five years---to increase passenger capacity from 42 million people to 47 million by 2020 and 65 million by 2022. The Xiamen accident changed all that. In fact, if tycoon Ramon Ang could have his way, he wants to sell the 650 hectares of the NAIA Airport and convert it into a business district, much like Makati Center.

As BizNews Asia editor-in-chief/publisher Tony Lopez points out, there is a precedent to RSA's idea: until 1948, the Manila airport was in Makati, in what used to be called the Nielsen Airport---now within the sprawling business hub of Makati. The only thing left in that area is the old tower, now converted into a fashionable restaurant across the Manila Peninsula. RSA is quoted as noting that selling NAIA would generate P2 trillion. 


Cecile Alvarez and I invited Raoul Eduardo C. Romulo, grandson of the quintessential diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, to talk about RSA's plan: a new international airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, to be called the New Manila International Airport (NMIA),  with initially two runways already functioning to service 100 million passengers---expandable to a total of six runways. Like Sangley, the proposed airport in Bulakan town would also capitalize on reclaiming additional land from Manila Bay and ParaƱaque.

Bulakenos I have talked to are worried about possible further floodings of their town during the rainy season as well as spillage from the Ipo and Angat Dams---especially with the proposed airport construction in the area. In answer, RSA's team proposes to build spillways in the area, through which water would drain into Manila Bay.

Ramon Ang proposes to built this new modern airport at the cost of P736B.


To my mind, the strength of RSA's NMIA project in Bulakan town lies in its connectivity to and from various points in the huge metropolis---primarily through SKYWAYS that are already being built by the SMC Infrastructure in various parts of Southern Luzon. 

For instance, Raoul Romulo points out that taking the skyway from Alabang to the Bulakan Airport WILL ONLY TAKE 30-36 MINUTES;  from Novaliches to the NMIA only 25 minutes while San Jose del Monte will also be accessible to the new airport via MRT-7, also an SMC Infrastructure project.


In fact, as Romulo explained, Skyway 1 will connect Sucat to Alabang; Skyway 2 from Paranaque to Buendia, and Skyway 3 from Buendia to the Northern Luzon Expressway, passing through Quirino and Plaza Dilao. There's also the Southern Tagalog Arterial Route (STAR). This October will start the construction of the route from Batangas to Quezon, and Stage 2, from FTI to Batasan, Antipolo, etc. 

Vision is what lightens the heart of us Filipinos who have had to cope with the nightmare of decrepit airports and hideous traffic just to get in and out of these airports. Hope is that we are finally seeing the urgent modernization of these infrastructure necessities in our lives. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

President Duterte wants to withdraw PH from Rome Statute that created the Int'l Criminal Court---sans approval of the Senate as required by the Constitution. Without Senate action, however, as Justice Carpio stresses, Duterte's move would be invalid. But what's Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo saying that PH has, in fact, already withdrawn from the ICC? The Senate should summon Panelo to explain.


A new conflict is brewing which promises to pit President Duterte and his legal team headed by  Secretary Sal Panelo, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in one corner, vs. Vice President Leni Robredo, senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and the opposition bloc in the Senate, led by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.  

 Except for the stand of Associate Justice Carpio who is perceived to be quite independent-minded, the verbal tussle over the Philippines' membership in the International Criminal Court---between the President and his legal team vs. Vice President Leni Robredo and the Senate opposition on the other hand---will be perceived wrongly as political. 

The present controversy should be apolitical, however,  as it is rooted in the Constitution. Proof is that this issue is pending in the Supreme Court where oral arguments on the validity or non-validity of PH's intention to withdraw from the ICC was heard last Tuesday.


Remember Fatou Bensouda, the feisty Gambian special prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) who came here last Feb. 08, 2018  purportedly to start preliminary investigation on alleged human rights violations in this country, in connection with the Duterte's administration's intensified war on drugs? 

Bensouda's visit and utterances caught world attention,  provoking angry threats from President Duterte---that led to his announcement last March 17, 2018 of our country's purported withdrawal of support for the Rome Statute that created the ICC. 

But that controversy simmered down after select voices made Mr. Duterte realize that backing out of the Rome Statute would give the country a worse black eye in the international community---perhaps even affirming all the more his  brutal war vs. drugs here, that he doesn't want it investigated.  Hence, nothing further erupted in the word war between the President and Bensouda.


That truce was apparently temporary,  for Mr. Duterte was quoted in Philippine Star recently as reviving his intention to withdraw the country from commitment to the ICC.  Such withdrawal, however,  is not that simple. 

The Philippines  was signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, which came into full force on July 1, 2017 in Rome, with 123 states as party to the Statute, including the  Philippines.   But just as there is a way for this country to enter into a treaty,  as expressed in the Philippine Constitution, there is  also a prescribed way to withdraw our commitment.  

Sec. 21 of Article VII on the "Executive Department" in the Constitution states that "No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate."


After last Tuesday's hearing of the SC on President Duterte's intention to withdraw  Philippine commitment to the ICC, Senior SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was quoted in Philippine Star as asserting, "The President's duty is to faithfully execute the law. You said that a treaty has the status of a law.  So the President has to faithfully execute a treaty, correct?"

Carpio stressed that inasmuch as commitment to the ICC is THE RESULT OF A TREATY,  to repeal it, Congress must also first pass a new law for such purpose. Or to put it another way,  the senior magistrate asserted to Malacanang: "YOU CANNOT OBVIOUSLY REPEAL THE TREATY YOURSELF, CORRECT?  YOU CANNOT ABROGATE IT, CORRECT? (emphasis BOC's). 

Or to still put it differently, the SC senior magistrate stressed: "If IT IS NOT THE SOLE DISCRETION OF THE PRESIDENT TO BE PART OF (A TREATY) IT'S ALSO NOT HIS SOLE DISCRETION TO WITHDRAW FROM IT." (emphasis BOC's).  

But Carpio also reminded the senators and Mr. Duterte that to repeal a treaty, "you don't need 2/3 or a majority of the members of the Senate, but only a majority of the quorum of the members." 


Vice President Leni Robredo, on the other hand, reminded Mr. Duterte that "our membership in the ICC was not a sole discretion of the President---membership was the decision of an entire body." 

VP Robredo was being pragmatic, though, as she stressed that Philippine membership in the ICC "also assures (various) peoples' protection from human rights violations in their countries, so that when the time comes that we can no longer defend ourselves (from human rights abuses) there will be other countries who share our beliefs, to protect us." 

 A group called the "Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court," led by the former Chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Loretta Ann Rosales, is seeking to invalidate the country's withdrawal from the ICC.

Six senators from the Opposition, led by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, also weighed in on the controversy, stressing the role of the Senate in enforcing a treaty---or abrogating it.


Predictably, the President's men rallied to his defense. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdia stressed that "Any time Mr. Duterte, as Chief Architect of Philippine policy, could withdraw from the ICC without consulting the Senate."

 Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, on the other hand, made a more interesting---and thereby pertinent---assertion. He was quoted as saying that "Duterte cannot be put under the jurisdiction of the ICC for allegedly extra-judicial killings related to the administration's drug war, AS THE PHILIPPINES ALREADY WITHDREW FROM THE ROME STATUTE." 

Moreover,  Panel asserted that since the Rome Statute "did not ripen into a law because it was not published in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general publication, thus it never had the effect of a measure."


Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo's startling assertion that the Philippines already withdrew from the Rome Statute ought to be examined, IF THERE ARE SENATORS WIDE AWAKE AT THIS MOMENT.   At the very least they should summon the debonair Panelo about this declaration---which, if true, debases the CONSTITUTIONAL PREROGATIVE of the Senate to approve or withdraw support for the Rome Statute, or for any international treaty, for that matter. 

Clearly foreseeable, however,  is that Mr. Duterte's reputation abroad as one who resorts to summary justice would widen even more. Let's hope and pray that he does not act from pure whim, but as a statesman worthy of international respect. 

Monday, August 20, 2018


Pandemonium at NAIA 2 after Xiamen Jet accident
Young ladies whiling away time at NAIA 2 Terminal while awaiting flight resumptions.

Last Friday’s accident at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)---ironically just five days ahead of the 35th commemoration of Ninoy Aquino’s heroism and martyrdom at the NAIA premises Aug. 21---was WAITING TO HAPPEN.  Most everyone whose plane has ever taken off or arrived at NAIA has been keenly aware of how precarious the situation of our  premier airport is, especially for the big birds.

Last Friday the inevitable happened: a Xiamen Air Jet skidded off on NAIA’s one and only international runway due to heavy rains, and got stuck in the mud. The resultant chaos in international flights to and from Manila we continue to feel till now.  To cope with the closure of that solitary NAIA runway, 70 international flights also had to be cancelled to prevent massive pile-up at NAIA while dozens upon dozens of international flights had to be diverted to Mactan in Cebu and to Clark Airport in Central Luzon, as well as to Hongkong, Ho Chi Minh, KL and Bangkok.   


The impact in economic losses for both international airlines as well as the PH economy would be felt for weeks to come--- but most important of all, we Pinoys have come to realize with finality how vulnerable NAIA truly is.

 The bad thing is that the whole world now knows our weakness. Sadly, however, the only positive musing we could muster was how lucky it was that it was a smaller plane like Xiamen Air that slid off the runway, as it could be lifted by two cranes the day after the accident.  What if it were one of those really big long birds!

For decades various administrations have planned the modernization of NAIA  and an absolute imperative was to construct another runway for those gigantic planes, but this  never came about.  NAIA has only one runway for international flights and a shorter one for domestic flights. It  has been outmoded for a long while, and Metro Manila---a teeming jungle of humanity---has had only one airport---the one honoring Ninoy Aquino (what a disservice to him!).

Contrast Manila's predicament with Tokyo, which has three airports: the Haneda Airport which is much like NAIA in proximity---25 km. from city center. Then there is Yokota, 40 km. from city center, used by the US Air Force, but which could be an emergency airport for the civilian population. Then there's Narita, the most used, 70 km. away.  


The thing to do now is to come to a forthright decision about NAIA. Today’s Inquirer editorial asserts that it’s "Time to retire NAIA.” As stressed, the airport that was meant to serve at most 31 million passengers a year is now strained to service 42 million passengers---and projected to rise to 47 million by 2020.

 My suggestion---and I’m sure officials of the Duterte administration have thought about this---is to convert NAIA to a COMPLETELY DOMESTIC AIRPORT handling increasing local flights as various resorts in the country take off with our tourism program. Corollary to this, CONCENTRATE ON TURNING CLARK INTO THE PRINCIPAL INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY OF AND TO THE PHILIPPINES.


I have flown out of Clark a number of times for Europe and I notice that it still has remained like a poor cousin to NAIA, with limited flights to and from PH as well as limited facilities for passengers. Now that the disaster waiting to happen in NAIA has happened, I’d suggest that Clark be converted fast into the country’s premier international airport, and equipped with all the comforts and facilities as such.

Clark’s advantages are several: principally, it has an excellent runway built by the Americans and great for the big birds. If another runway is necessary, land is available all around---unlike in NAIA in Paranaque where land is so tight, or if available, only at astronomical prices as the authorities would have to purchase subdivisions completely populated, if a second international runway were to be built.


For us Filipinos, many of whom exhibit an insular mentality so that additional travel time to Clark is anathema, make the travel to this former US base easy and comfortable. If need be, let's construct a separate highway to address traffic to and from Clark to Metro Manila, as such highway would be far cheaper as it would only involve mainly rice lands. And ultimately, construct a railway to and from Clark to Manila for passengers and goods---far cheaper than expropriating plush subdivisions around NAIA in ParaƱaque for a second international runway.

On the other hand, Cebu International Airport also has to be refurbished and upgraded to fully function as an international gateway---to absorb ALL  the traffic to and from the progressive island provinces in the Visayas.  End goal is to divert air traffic from Manila. 


In terms of population and potential for growth, PH cannot be considered small or even medium-size. Let us think big, but let's also put solid planning into our dreams and ambitions. I have traveled quite a bit in my professional work and I have been to some of the best airports in the world. Among the latest is the Malpensa Airport outside Milan in Italy, which took my breath away with its size, efficiency and amenities---so impressive.

We can’t afford to stand still, as our neighboring countries are modernizing their airports. In Hongkong, reclamation is going on  for a THIRD RUNWAY, with two terminals to be built. Kuala Lumpur’s airport is reachable in an hour by car, or ½ hour by high-speed train to city center. Singapore’s Changi Airport is developing A THIRD RUNWAY, along with Terminal 5.


NAIA’S disaster waiting to happen indeed happened last Friday, but let’s already stop wringing our hands and tossing blame around---instead, let’s buckle down to work. The San Miguel Conglomerate, the largest in the country and led by dynamic visionary tycoon Ramon Ang, is said to be mulling a $15-billion international "aerotropolis" in Bulacan, Bulacan, with  FOUR RUNWAYS and a proposed spillway into Manila of floodings in the area. 

On the other hand, a group led by the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng consortium, in partnership with the Cavite local government, is said to be considering expanding the Danilo Atienza Air Base of the Philippine Air Force in Sangley Point, with some reclamation, at a cost of P763B. There's also the P350-B plan of the Ayala/Aboitiz and leading taipans to build a second NAIA runway and expand and link the three airport terminals.

These plans are great and now is the time to DREAM BIG AND EXECUTE THOSE PLANS  during the administration of President Duterte who likes to project himself as a dynamic leader. He’s still equipped with plenty of political capital---this is the time to show it off with sound decisions that will benefit the entire country.