By Juan Escandor Jr.
PILI, Camarines Sur---The budget for the planned San Jose Airport in the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has been scrapped after a group of Camarines Sur lawmakers opposed its inclusion, according to Camarines Sur second district Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.
“The budget for the San Jose Airport was already removed from the budget. I have talked to Secretary Tugade, and it was removed,” Villafuerte said, responding to the Bicol Mail inquiry on the petition of five solons from Camarines Sur filed as resolution at the Lower House in December last year.
On Dec. 5, Camarines Sur Congressmen Luis Raymund Villafuerte (second district), Gabriel Bordado (third district) and Salvio Fortuno (fifth district) jointly filed House Resolution 1510 urging the House committee on transportation and appropriations to conduct, in aid of legislation, an inquiry regarding the inclusion of the planned San Jose Airport in the 2018 General Appropriation Bill.
House Resolution 1510 has cited that the planned San
Jose Airport in the 2018 General Appropriation Bill approved in the House as being included in the list of airports that were reported as “being upgraded and readied for night commercial operations in 2018,”
It further cited that the budgetary allocation of the planned San Jose Airport is reflected on Page 84, Volume 1-B of 2018 General Appropriation Bill with P200M and on Page 85, P25M for the “construction, rehabilitation and improvement.”
The joint House Resolution of Villafuerte, Bordado and Fortuno endorses the recommendation of the October 2014 Feasibility and Master Plan for the Naga Development Project Final Report that “the Proposed New Naga Airport must serve as the sole future jet airport for Camarines Sur province to fully maximize the project.”
The planned P1.14-B San Jose Airport, located in the town of San Jose which is 45 km from the Naga Airport in the town of Pili Camarines Sur, has yet to undergo the process of approval from the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to the Regional Development Council to the Neda Board that finally approves government projects of more than P1B, according to the Neda officials in Bicol.
Prominent government officials in Camarines Sur are questioning why the planned San Jose Airport, which the Office of Fourth District Congressman Arnulfo Fuentebella initiates in his district, has secured funding from the House without the knowledge of the congressmen from the second, third and fifth district of Camarines Sur during the budget deliberations.
Bordado said they were questioning the process how the budget of the San Jose Airport project was added in 2018 General Appropriation Bill without passing through the process.
Villafuerte said he had already sent President Duterte a letter enumerating the reasons why the San Jose Airport project should not be approved.
He said the San Jose Airport is a duplication of the Naga Airport and therefore “an unnecessary waste of government funds.”
Villafuerte said the creation of San Jose Airport is not viable and feasible and it contradicts the Naga Airport Development Project.
He said the 2018 budget allocation to the the San Jose Airport is without prior public consultation.
Jerold Peña, chief of staff of Camarines Sur fourth district Cong. Arnulfo Fuentebella and in-charge of the overall monitoring of the San Jose Airport project, admitted in an exclusive interview on Dec. 2 that even though the feasibility study of the proposed San Jose Airport project has yet to be submitted to the NEDA Board for approval, Transportation Sec. Arthur Tugade has assured to give it allocation for a total of P640M for a three-year period.
“Dai mi man huna-hunaon na kan narevive mi (an San Jose Airport project) kan (Transportation) Secretary (Arthur) Tugade, in a series of two meetings…pina-appropriate niya (Tugade) tulos nin P40 million for the land acquisition,” Peña said.
(We are not expecting that when we had revived (the San Jose Airport project) with (Transportation) Secretary (Arthur) Tugade, in a series of two meetings, he (Tugade) immediately appropriated P40 million for the land acquisition.)
Tugade has promised continuing funding of the development of the second airport in Camarines Sur in 2018 and 2019 under the budget of the DoTr with P200M and P400M, respectively, he added.
With an estimated cost of P1.14B, the San Jose Airport project in the fourth congressional district of Camarines Sur requires the approval of NEDA Board which the President presides because the project cost is over P1-billion, according to the NEDA regional office.
Gilbert Abiog, chief engineer of project development, programming and budgeting division of NEDA V, said government projects of more than P1 billion requires full-blown feasibility study, from marketing, technical, economic, financial, environmental to the social aspect of the project.
Abiog said upon completion of the full-blown feasibility study, it will be submitted to NEDA, after which the Investment Coordination Committee deliberates on the project before it is finally submitted to the NEDA Board for approval or disapproval.
Peña said the project is initiated by the Office of Congressman Fuentebella and assisted by the DoTr and the Partido Development Administration (PDA).
He said the airport project in San Jose town was originally proposed during the time of Jose de Jesus, former secretary of the then Department of Transportation and Communication.
Peña said the San Jose Airport project was not given due attention and the implementation stalled during the time of President Benigno Aquino III until the Duterte administration when Arthur Tugade was appointed the secretary of DoTr.
He confirmed that the Office of Fourth Congressional District of Camarines Sur, the PDA and the DoTr have not submitted yet to the NEDA the feasibility study of the San Jose Airport project.
Peña said the DoTr has revisited the San Jose Airport project and its technical report dated 11 October 2017 showed that the total project cost is P1.14 billion.
On February 17, 2017, the groundbreaking and inauguration ceremony of San Jose Airport was held with Tugade and Department of Energy Secretary Al Cusi, together with Fuentebella, leading the occasion.
However, Abiog said the NEDA regional office in Bicol was unaware and uninformed about the inauguration and groundbreaking event of the San Jose Airport, until they learned it from the media reports.
“We do not have official report from the DoTr. We only learned the inauguration of the San Jose Airport through the media,” he said.
Abiog said the NEDA is asking the DoTr about the media report that there was a groundbreaking ceremony of the San Jose Airport.
He said projects of more than P1 billion requires full-blown feasibility study, from marketing, technical, economic, financial, environmental and social processes.
Abiog said the proposed San Jose Airport has yet to go through the process required by the NEDA.
He said in 2013 the PDA has submitted to the NEDA a pre-feasibility study of the San Jose Airport. He said it was before the submission of the feasibility study of the Naga Airport Development Project.
“Based on our review, we noted that it was only pre-feasibility study. So, we wrote them (PDA) and told them to give us the feasibility study report because the project exceeded the cap of Investment Coordination Committee of P1 billion. But, unfortunately, until now we did not receive response from the PDA,” Abiog said.
Asked whether it is legal to appropriate fund for projects that must be approved first by the NEDA Board, Peña said it is legal since the funding is processed through the Congress.
“It’s below P1 billion and it is being studied,” he said.