SENATORS on Thursday said they will seek to restore P160 billion in funding for the Department of Transportation (DoTr) in the General Appropriations bill after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved only P73 billion for the department in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).
“I really believe that we really have to invest in infrastructure. I think this is really our weakest link… I think we’re 30 years behind so I would support the retention of the P160 billion,” Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito told reporters after the DoTr budget hearing.
Mr. Ejercito chairs the Senate finance subcommittee tasked to present the DoTr’s budget to the plenary.
“Our economy will not soar if we have no infrastructure. That’s the backbone, so we will support initiatives to restore some of your proposals,” Sen. Juan Edgardo M. Angara told DoTr officials.
Sen. Loren B. Legarda, who chairs the Senate committee on finance, said she wants more regional airports to be upgraded for evening flights.
According to Transportation Undersecretary for Aviation Manuel Antonio L. Tamayo, the agency has been given funding to upgrade only five airports to be rated for night operations in 2019.
He said the upgrades cover airports in Panglao, Bohol; Cauayan, Isabela; Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte; Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur; and Cotabato City, Maguindanao. Of the 44 commercially-served airports, about 19 are equipped for evening flights, Mr. Tamayo added.
Ms. Legarda said she will introduce amendments to the proposed budget in order to provide additional funding for night rating upgrades in Antique, Sanga-sanga airport in Tawi-Tawi, and the Vigan airport in Ilocos Sur.
“We will night-rate (Antique airport)… It will be my amendment for my home province,” she said.
“For security reasons and tourism and trade and in anticipation of the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic law, we want to help our Muslim brothers and sisters. It’s important that we have 24/7 access to Tawi-Tawi and we will night rate so we can land anytime… We can promote the north aggressively if Vigan is night rated,” she added.
Mr. Tamayo said night rating upgrades to provincial airports will help decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as this will allow more domestic evening flights.
“In NAIA, we have a lot of free slots from 12 (midnight) to six in the morning but domestic flights cannot go to specific destinations because of this limitation. If we move flights to these open slots, it will decongest Manila not only in the air, but it will also decongest (road) traffic,” he said.
Under the NEP, the proposed budget for DoTr’s aviation infrastructure program is P2.16 billion. — Camille A. Aguinaldo