THE MARCOS administration wants to invite bids for the modernization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE NATIONAL Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board on Wednesday approved three new infrastructure projects, including the P170.6-billion public-private partnership (PPP) project to upgrade the aging Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the government prefers to invite bidders for the solicited proposal to rehabilitate, operate, expand and transfer the country’s main international gateway.

“We can expect to have the winning bidder within the year, and as early as next year the project can be started,” he said at a Palace briefing.

A solicited proposal is a project identified by the implementing agency, which is accomplished through public bidding, according to the PPP Center.

In this case, the NAIA project was proposed by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). It was evaluated within seven weeks, making it “the fastest approved PPP proposal in Philippine history,” the Finance department said in a separate statement.

Mr. Balisacan said the DoTr and MIAA want the private sector to address long-standing issues at the NAIA such as the inadequate capacity of passenger terminal buildings and restricted aircraft movements. 

“It aims to increase the current annual airport capacity from 35 million to at least 62 million passengers. The NAIA public-private partnership project also aims to increase air traffic movements from 40 to 48 per hour,” he added.

The PPP project is also expected to “address long queues, lengthy waiting times, and other passenger inconveniences” at the NAIA, Mr. Balisacan said.

At a chance briefing with NEDA reporters, Mr. Balisacan said the solicited approach would enable the fast rehabilitation of NAIA, as the government considers tourism as a driver of growth.

“Government revenue is important but more important is quality of services, the improvement of the facilities, the experience of travelers,” he said when asked to detail the revenue-sharing model under the approved solicited proposal. “We’re trying to push tourism as a driver of growth. We need those improvements now… This solicited approach is even faster.”

At the same time, Mr. Balisacan said the Manila International Airport Consortium’s (MIAC) P267-billion unsolicited proposal to operate and modernize the NAIA is “de facto closed.”

But the consortium —  composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital, AC Infrastructure, Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Alliance Global-InfraCorp Development, Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Infrastructure Holdings Corp., and Global Infrastructure Partners — is encouraged to participate in the bidding.

In a statement, the MIAC said it supported the government’s move to rehabilitate the NAIA.

“Regardless of the route, we firmly believe that NAIA’s modernization requires a long-term and comprehensive solution delivered by a credible and capable party at the quickest possible time. These criteria — regardless of the approach — would best benefit NAIA and the Filipino people,” the consortium said.

Terry L. Ridon, convenor of InfraWatch, said the approved NAIA PPP project “constitutes a very significant cost difference” to MIAC’s P267-billion unsolicited proposal, which has a cost premium of around 57%.

“The approval of the DoTr’s P170.6-billion NAIA rehabilitation proposal constitutes an acceptable middle ground between MIAC’s unsolicited proposal and the original DoTr proposal amount of P141 billion,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“This balances the government interest to expedite the rehabilitation of the country’s flagship airport through private sector capital and the public interest of reasonable airport fees during the concession period,” he added.

Mr. Ridon said MIAC may opt to participate in the solicited bid “if it continues to believe that it can provide the project’s best vision, service and pricing at NEDA’s approved project cost.”

Meanwhile, the NEDA Board approved the P12.75-billion unsolicited proposal for the operation and maintenance of the Laguindingan International Airport project, and the P7.48-billion Samar Pacific Coastal Road II project.

Mr. Balisacan said the Laguindingan Airport PPP project “aims to integrate concepts of ‘green’ and ‘connected’ airports into its design and operation and use digital technologies to enhance the passenger experience.”

The Samar project would involve the construction of two marine bridges — the Laoang 2 Bridge and Calomotan Bridge — and improve existing roads between Laoang Island and mainland Samar Island.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said the approval of the three infrastructure projects signals the Marcos administration’s PPP push, especially in transportation.

“Private sector participation, which brings in both financial capital and technical expertise, will enable consumers to experience efficient and quality service as they travel domestically and internationally,” he said.