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Stalled Bicol airport project may affect administration bets --Salceda

Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda said on Wednesday the administration candidates might suffer in the upcoming May elections in Bicol, mainly due to the stalled completion of the Bicol International Airport (BIA) in Daraga, Albay.

Salceda
“Blame (Transportation Secretary Joseph) Abaya for the loss of the administration candidates,” Salceda said, pointing out that the international airport should have been completed and made operational this year, given the project timeline.

He feared that administration candidates would experience the anger of Bicolano voters, specifically the Albayanos, who are dismayed by the slow pace of the implementation of the airport project by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

In an interview, Salceda said he was disappointed with the agency's delay in the implementation of the BIA despite the readiness of funds to carry it out.

Earlier, the Albay chief executive expressed dismay over the statement of Transportation Secretary Abaya blaming the losing bidders for the delays in government flagship projects, like airports and seaports.

In a letter to Abaya on Feb. 1, Salceda urged the DOTC chief to speed up the award of the contract for the Phase 2A of the BIA, covering the construction of land side facilities which was bid out on Dec. 8 last year.

“The biggest losers here are the Bicolanos and they are really sour at the additional two-year delay in an already-delayed project,” he said.

Salceda lamented the slow implementation of the project after the DOTC disqualified a winning bidder and is set to hold another bidding that would further delay the project.

By declaring a failed bidding, DOTC’s Bids and Awards Committee found a convenient excuse to conduct another bidding.

“This would further delay – by at least one year – the actual construction of the long-awaited BIA. All our best laid-out plans for tourism development will suffer as a consequence,” Salceda stressed.

He urged Abaya to personally look into the project bidding to ensure that the transaction is above board.

“I don’t want to think that there are favored contractors in the DOTC because this doesn’t speak well of the administration’s 'Daang Matuwid' (straight path) mantra," the Liberal Party Albay leader added.

He said Albayanos are appealing for the immediate implementation of the international airport, as he understands that the project is not the only major infrastructure project suffering from unjustified delays.

"Our people deserve better,” he said.

Salceda said the airport is a Public-Private Partnership project and was allocated the amount of Php2.2 billion for the construction of runway, apron and taxiway which are now being implemented.

The government has already poured in some Php1.6 billion since 2009 for the construction of the SLIA (Southern Luzon International Airport).

The funds were released in three tranches: Php300 million in 2009 and another Php300 million in 2010 for concrete road construction and site development.

The Php970-million funding released in 2012 was spent for the construction of a 2.1-kilometer runway according to international standards.

Salceda, however, said the scope of work was only confined to the air side while the structures at the land side area of the proposed airport is still being worked out.

He said the project, once finished, will not only totally address the technical limitations of the existing Legazpi Airport due to the frequent flight cancellations but will also provide a safer air transportation to the growing number of passengers owing to the booming tourism industry in the area.

Businessmen are becoming impatient over the delay in the construction of the BIA in Daraga, Albay.

“We are missing out on opportunities, especially tourist arrivals, as the Southern Luzon International Airport will reduce transportation costs and travel time,” Salceda said of the delay.

The governor sees the generation of 1.5 million tourists coming to Bicol by 2017 once the international airport has been completed.

While there are several airports north of Manila like the Clark International Airport and the Laoag International Airport, Salceda said, there is none in the southern part of Manila.

The BIA would be a viable market and serve as alternate gateway to Manila, the Visayas, and Mindanao, especially in times of extreme weather disturbances in these areas.

It lies in a 148-hectare area with 2,100-meter runway strip, to be equipped with night landing capability and takeoff facilities, control tower, passenger and cargo terminal, car park, fire station, and other modern facilities. (By Mar S. Arguelles, PNA)

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