CAMARINES Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte has reproached the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for the inordinate delay in the expansion-cum-improvement of the Naga Airport as well as the rollout of the Philippine National Railways’ South Long Haul (PNR Bicol) project even if both works that would energize Bicol tourism and trade were considered flagship projects of previous governments.
At the recent Commission on Appointments (CA) committee hearing on the designation of DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista, Villafuerte bewailed that even though the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III had already set aside funds for the modernization of the Naga Airport, this project has failed to take off up to now because of the failure of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to actively participate in the protracted legal battle over the expropriation of private lands to be covered by the extension of this airport’s runway.
Villafuerte, who is CA majority leader, also complained to Bautista at the latter’s confirmation hearing that despite the PNR Bicol project being a “priority” undertaking of the Duterte administration under its centerpiece program “Build, Build, Build” (BBB), this railway plan has failed to move forward after the initial reports that this project would be funded mainly by China and built by a joint venture (JV) of three Chinese companies.
He was referring to the reported signing last January 2022 of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the DOTr and the JV firms China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co. Ltd. (CREC JV) on a P142-billion design-build contract for the design and construction of Phase 1 of this PNR Bicol project, which will cover a 380-kilometer (km) railway from Calamba, Laguna to Daraga, Albay.
“I fully support your nomination, Sec. (Bautista), but I just have to put on record that the Naga Airport has been budgeted, (and) approved by the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority). It’s a flagship project. When (then-DOTr) Secretary (Arthur) Tugade assumed office (in 2016), that was the first thing I raised sa kanya, but unfortunately, six years has passed, walang nangyari,” Villafuerte, who is president of the National Unity Party (NUP) said.
A former Camarines Sur governor, Villafuerte pointed out to Bautista that this Naga Airport project was approved by NEDA during the past Aquino III administration and given a budget to keep it going, but “for six years under the Duterte administration walang nangyari. When I speak and follow up on the Naga Airport, Mr. Secretary, the prime concern is actually safety.”
Because this airport’s landing field is short, it could not accommodate jets like the Airbus 300, and Villafuerte said there was always the danger that the smaller planes could overshoot the runway.
Hence, the expansion project to extend this short airstrip up to Camarines Sur’s capital town of Pili to ensure safer plane landings, increase passenger traffic and boost local tourism as a more extended landing field would enable the airport to accommodate bigger planes or jets.
Although the expropriation process was started by the Camarines Sur provincial government during the previous Aquino III administration, Villafuerte said this eventually hit a snag over the drawn-out expropriation proceedings that are still pending in court because of the opposition from would-be affected landowners.