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[OPINION] A new international airport 20 minutes from Luneta

GOTCHA – Jarius Bondoc – The Philippine Star
June 1, 2022 | 12:00am


The departing administration now wants to sell the old Manila International Airport. The prime property can repay a big chunk of the P7.5-trillion public debt it racked up in six years. That sale should have commenced years ago. MIA is hopelessly congested. Middle class subdivisions cannot be relocated, thus its shelved P100-billion expansion and T-shaped runway extension.

Yet the admin dawdled. Nearly a billion pesos was spent to facelift one terminal, the same amount to replace baggage conveyor in another and still the same amount to move light cargo planes to Sangley Point 28 kms away. The aged aerodrome only earned bad aviation and travel reviews, recently as the world’s worst for business-class passengers. Rains flood up the Sangley runway.

All that time, San Miguel Corp. was proposing to use its own P740 billion to build a New MIA on its land in Bulacan. Although franchised by Congress for 50 years to build and operate the NMIA, interminable bureaucratic requirements kept delaying groundbreaking. Will the incoming admin see things clearer?

Newsbits on SMC’s project whet investor and tourist interest. The 2,500-hectare site will have four parallel runways, plus space for two more. Briefing columnists Monday, SMC president-CEO Ramon S. Ang arithmetized what the first two runways alone can accommodate. “Let’s be conservative, with only 250 passengers per flight:” 250 x 50 take-offs and landings per hour x 2 runways x 24 hours a day x 365 days a year = 219,000,000 passengers a year. Four-and-a-half times the old MIA’s maximum of 47 million. A big boost to tourism, travel and trade. Frequent fliers Ang and his team prioritize safety, security, on-time reliability, comfort and convenience.

How far from Manila? “Twenty minutes from Kilometer 0, Rizal Monument, on a 16-km elevated coastal highway,” Ang beamed. Highways will connect NMIA to Luzon’s many tollways; SMC’s Metro Rail Transit-7 will loop through it.

Last week, the Dutch government approved an export credit insurance of 1.5 billion euros (P84 billion) for land development by Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. Before that, Atradius Dutch State Business and four international consultancies reviewed onsite for a year NMIA’s long-term environmental and social impact mitigation measures. The 90-year-old agency’s insurance covers compensation for adverse effects. “This shows that our environmental and social mitigation plans are not only sound but robust, given they can pass international standards and the exacting requirements of the Dutch government,” Ang said.

Around the airport will rise a city designed by foremost green urban planner Architect Felino Palafox Jr. Palafox has completed 1,500 projects in 45 countries. Assessing Metro Manila’s many woes, Ang said, “Aerocity is designed with the future in mind,” including renewable energy, traditional and alternative transport modes and outdoor lifestyles. It will adopt green architecture and green urbanism beyond present building and zoning codes. Expect greenery every 15 minutes of walk. Zones are earmarked for agriculture and food production, logistics, health and wellness, aeronautics, finance, science and technology, commerce, residences, education, worship, tourism, entertainment, recreation and government.

Preparatory to development, SMC replanted 190,000 mangroves, restored bird and marine habitats and dredged surrounding rivers to end perennial floods. Foreseeing the Philippines’ need to build 100 new cities by 2050, Palafox intends Aerocity to be the model for healthy, environment-friendly urbanization.

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The capital markets community is cheering from the sidelines the SEC’s restoration of Venture Securities’ license as stockbroker. The agency earlier implicated Venture to another brokerage’s P700-million scandal. That other firm collapsed in 2019 after an employee surreptitiously stole clients’ shares for eight years.

Hits and misses marked the SEC probe. In breach of SEC rules on checks and balances, the other firm’s employee was both trader and settlement clerk. He shouldn’t have had the access codes to operate the dealing system. But he did. This enabled him to transfer the stolen shares to a cohort who had an account in Venture, an allowable transaction. Venture had no role in the scam. Yet the SEC concluded bad faith, cancelled Venture’s license last year and slapped it with a P32-million fine.

On appeal, Venture disproved bad faith. Before the scam, it already had adequate supervisory controls to enforce securities laws and SEC rules. The Philippine Stock Exchange’s own watchdog, the Capital Markets Integrity Corp., found no irregularities in the transfer account at Venture. Venture’s board acted swiftly to stave off any more securities theft.

Out of delicadeza, Venture chairman Eusebio Tanco also declined nomination last year to the PSE board, after 14 years as director.

The SEC consequently conceded that it cannot automatically presume bad faith but must prove it by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, it renewed Venture’s status as a respectable and law-abiding brokerage. “You’re vindicated,” capital market colleagues congratulate Tanco.