- in Opinion

The pressing need to establish new hubs of air transport to service the Philippine capital is undeniable. However, the Duterte administration is not about to let the Philippine government rush into another flawed contract just to address this. That’s why Secretary Domiguez of the Department of Finance is asking the private proponent San Miguel Corp., led by billionaire tycoon Ramon Ang to clarify certain matters regarding the Bulacan airport to ensure that the project would not be disadvantageous to the country.

While some critics and invested parties are claiming this to be a form of bad governance, it’s the opposite. A quick look around the nation will make it obvious to any observer that we have enough examples of how ill-conceived government projects have cost the Filipino public in the long run. Not only are these rushed contracts unfavorable to the Filipino people and government, they are difficult to exit and subject to external influences, even after they’re proven to be negative.

Take for a case study the disaster of Manila Water and Maynilad. Both water concessionaires have been facing issues lately over service interruptions and even a Supreme Court decision from August which fined them P2 million over failures to comply with stipulations of the Clean Water Act. But both firms will be passing these fines on to consumers through water rate hikes. Both firms were also recently awarded a combined P11 million from the Philippine government, thanks to a ruling from a Singaporean arbitration council, over government interference in rate setting. 

If these terms seem wildly biased to you, then you’re not wrong and you’re not alone. President Duterte has ordered the review of every government contract following the obviously flawed Singaporean ruling. For that matter, we don’t really have any options – the concessionaires’ contract explicitly prohibits the government from having any power over the arbitrary water rates set by these water firms. The Filipino public and even the government are practically held hostage by these water companies, all thanks to faulty contracts from 1997.

Therefore, the due process of evaluating all pros and cons for a project as huge as the Bulacan airport cannot be rushed. While the Duterte administration is doing all it can, the strong political will exhibited over the last 3 years can only do so much to make up for the lost time of previous administrations. Just because this needs to be solved doesn’t mean that it must be foolishly rushed into. The Filipino people deserve better than that – they deserve smarter urban planning and better guarantees from their government that these projects are entered with the wellbeing of the people in mind. 

Being against the delays caused by these intensive contract reviews is an obvious sign that critics have their thumbs in the pie. Just look at the most vocal critics of the administration’s conservative approach to the airport – are they stakeholders in San Miguel Corp? Are they honestly concerned over the welfare of the project, or are they casting doubt on the President’s intentions in favor of their own interests?

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