THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) on Wednesday said the groundbreaking for the Bulacan airport project will finally push through next week.

“In so far as the Bulacan airport is concerned, I have been advised that the groundbreaking by the proponent will be done mid-January. I think it is also Jan. 15,” Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said in his speech during the conference on the Institutionalized Leveraging of Infrastructure Program for Airport Development (iLIPAD) held in Clark, Pampanga on Wednesday.

“This project will now be a go,” he also said. The groundbreaking for the airport project was supposed to happen in December last year.

Asked to confirm, San Miguel Corp. (SMC) Media Affairs Group Manager Jayson B. Brizuela told BusinessWorld in a phone interview: “Naghihintay pa rin kami ng confirmation, at saka kami magi-issue ng statement (We’re still waiting for confirmation, we’ll then issue a statement).”

SMC President and Chief Operating Officer Ramon S. Ang had said last month that the groundbreaking was “being delayed” after the government raised concerns about the contract.

According to Mr. Tugade, it was the Department of Finance (DoF) that raised concerns about the project contract.

He said Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III just wanted to make sure that all contracts are in favor of government.

The P734-billion Bulacan airport project, which will be officially called the New Manila International Airport, involves construction of a 2,400-hectare airport with four parallel runways (expandable to six runways), eight taxiways and three passenger terminal buildings. It will have an annual capacity of 100 million travelers, which the government hopes will help decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.

Mr. Tugade also said in his speech: “So what happens now to (NAIA) terminal 1, terminal 2, terminal 3 and terminal 4? The NAIA conglomerate, I hope that the conversations with the consortium will be finished in no more than two more meetings.”

“I will give them a final deadline to finalize everything within a set time limit in this month, otherwise I may be forced to cancel the unsolicited proposal and offer it to parties and individuals that are ready to accept the terms and conditions of the government’s concession agreements and the government’s detailed program in so far as the improvement and rehabilitation of terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4 are concerned,” he added.

In November last year, the board of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the unsolicited P102-billion proposal from the country’s top tycoons to rehabilitate NAIA.

The project will be subjected to a Swiss challenge after the Manila International Airport Authority and the NAIA Consortium agree on terms and conditions of the concession agreement. The Manila International Airport Authority will submit the draft agreement to the Office of the Solicitor General and the DoF for comment.

The consortium undertaking the project consists of Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc; AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp.; Alliance Global Group, Inc.; Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp.; Filinvest Development Corp.; JG Summit Holdings, Inc.; and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.

The NAIA rehabilitation is expected to increase its capacity to handle passengers to 47 million a year in the first two years and further expand this to 65 million after four years.

The international airport has been operating beyond its 30.5 million passenger capacity with 45.3 million passengers in 2018, 42 million in 2017 and 39.5 million in 2016. — Arjay L. Balinbin