EDITORIAL: Airport politics
AT A GLANCE, two airports in one province may indicate progress. It will be amazing to see more air traffic flying in and sending out more passengers, tourists, visitors and cargoes into one province at any given time. It is not necessarily bad to have two airports in Camarines Sur, 45 km apart. What is bad is the politics that operate behind the scene that can slow down the development of the aviation industry in the premier province in Bicol, rather than hasten it. With two big projects simultaneously being implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in Camarines Sur, it will be hard to satisfy both in a given year, especially that government funds are not limitless. The beleaguered Naga Development Airport Project (NDAP), approved in 2015 with P3.4B in total cost, had been allotted P1.002B in 2016 and P670M in 2015. But the actual release of fund has yet to see the light of day. With only P400M downloaded to the Camarines Sur provincial government in 2017, the budget released for the NDPA that covers two years is even less than 60 percent of the allocation supposedly to be released in 2015. This is precisely because there are limitations in the approval of budgetary requirement of each department vis-à-vis other departments. The planned San Jose Airport in the province’s Partido district, whose feasibility study has yet to be submitted to the National Economic Development Administration (NEDA) as a standard procedure, obviously got preferential treatment from Transportation Secretary Tugade, given its P40M allocation in 2017, and a total of P225M in the General Appropriation Bill approved by the House. And yet, the planned San Jose Airport, with a project cost of P1.14B, has not been approved by NEDA to merit allocation in the GAA. Behind the scene, it was revealed by Jerold Peña, chief of staff of Camarines Sur fifth district Cong. Arnulfo Fuentebella who is initiating the San Jose Airport project, that through representation with Tugade the planned San Jose Airport was able to get the secretary’s nod who pledged for its continuing budget allocation in the GAA until 2019. It is true that the planned San Jose Airport did not in a way rob the NADP of fund. However, it had, without doubt affected the prioritization of projects to be funded under the budget of the DOTr. Beyond politics, the move of Camarines Sur Congressmen Luis Raymund Villafuerte (second district), Gabriel Bordado Jr. (third district) and Salvio Fortuno (fifth district) to seek reconsideration of the inclusion of the San Jose Airport project. The San Jose airport budget, it is claimed, did not pass through the process of approval which can be said as a classic act of budget insertion. Chiming in is Vice President Leni Robredo who raises legal question on its approval in the budget bill. Obviously, Camarines Sur has been left behind in terms of developing the airport facility by the province of Albay. President Duterte even noticed the stark limitation of the Naga Airport compared to the Legazpi Airport when he visited Camarines Sur last October. The President wondered why Naga City, which according to him is more popular than Legazpi City, does not have an airport that has night landing and take-off capability. Naga Airport, located in Pili, Camarines Sur with a 1.2-km runway can only accommodate small turbo-prop aircraft. Aside from this limitation, due to the obstruction of Mt. Isarog, aircrafts can only land and take-off in one direction. Legazpi Airport, 69 km away from Naga Airport, with 2.3-km runway can handle medium-sized aircrafts and night landing and take-off capability. With greater capability, more aircrafts and passengers are patronizing the Legazpi Airport than Naga Airport which in turn, based on supply-demand principle, makes airfare going to Naga higher by about P4,000 compared to Legazpi. It is not surprising at all that Albayanos have better airport than their counterpart in Camarines Sur. Politicians in Albay, though they may belong to separate political loyalties, always join their hands and put their hearts together when pushing for projects that will, above all, benefit the province.