COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/23 March) – Officials from the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) are meeting Monday morning with local officials and the business sector here to discuss the problems brought about by the delayed construction work in the Cotabato airport.
Atty Ishak Mastura, chair of the Regional Board of Investments of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), told MindaNews that the meeting at 9 a.m. will be held at the office of ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia.
He said MinDA Executive Director Janet Lopoz will be attending along with DOTC Assistant Secretary Lino Dhabi, Assistant Secretary for Project Monitoring and Evaluation.
Since December last year, what used to be daily flights to and from this city have been cut to only four days a week – from Fridays to Mondays.
The P55.6 million project on the widening of the taxiway and construction of a perimeter fence started in December 2013 and was supposed to have been completed by February 27, 2014.
But work on the project has been turtle-paced.
From the building housing the office of airport manager Mohammad Naga Rascal on March 18, one could see, a few hundred meters away, on the left side of the runway, only three compactors, one backhoe and one payloader working.
“Nadagdagan na nga yan ng equipment” (They’ve already added equipment), Rascal told MindaNews that day. He said he told the project engineer of the Vicente T. Lao Construction on March 10 to make sure the work is done in one month because residents in Cotabato City and neighboring areas, particularly the business sector, are incensed over the delay and want the resumption of daily flights soonest, instead of the present schedule of Fridays to Mondays only.
Several “urgent” resolutions have been passed — by the business sector on February 24, the City Council of Cotabato on February 25 and the Regional Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on March 6 – to ask the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), to resume the daily flights.
Rascal said he forwarded the “urgent” resolutions to their national office.
President Aquino flew in on Tuesday, March 11, a supposed no-fly-day, to attend the thanksgiving mass of Mindanao’s first Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo. A special flight of a commercial airline was allowed to ferry the bishops from Manila to this city.
Residents hoped the President would make a pronouncement on the airport problem but there was none.
Fridays to Mondays only
Since December 2013, commercial flight operations have been reduced from four flights daily (two Cotabato-bound, two Manila-bound) to a flight schedule of Fridays to Mondays only, due to repair and rehabilitation work on the airport. Tuesdays to Thursdays, the airport is closed supposedly for construction work.
Because of limited flights and limited days of airport operation, passengers and cargo for air shipment now have to go through the airports either in Davao City or General Santos City.
General Santos City is three hours away from Cotabato City while Davao City is five hours away.
MindaNews sought the construction firm’s owner, Vicente Lao, who is also head of the Mindanao Business Council, for clarification. Last month, he said he would look into the complaints. MindaNews tried to reach him Sunday but he had not replied as of 6 p.m.
Seat of ARMM
Resolution 381 passed by the ARMM’s RLA on March 6, called for the resumption of daily commercial flights at Cotabato airport , citing its “important role in governance and socio-economic development” as it is the gateway to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as well as some parts of neighboring Region 12 (Southwestern Mindanao or what is often refered to as Soccsksargen region).
Cotabato City has been the “temporary” seat of government of the ARMM since its birth in 1991.
Resolution 381 also expressed its “strong and unequivocal support” to the appeal made by the business and government sectors to resume the daily flights. The resolution, signed by leaders of business and government, was passed during the Business Connectivity Consultation on Feb 24, 2014 organized by the ARMM-RBOI.
Seat of Mindanao’s Cardinal
Resolution 5479 of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) of Cotabato, issued on February 25, called for the resumption of daily flights “even as repair and rehabilitation works are being done.
The airport, it said, serves not only residents of this city but also those in neighboring Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Sur.
The resolution said there is “an urgent need” to address the inconveniences, citing the need to “provide continuity to the much sought expanding economic growth and improving peace and order,” and because the Archdiocese of Cotabato is the seat of Mindanao’s first Cardinal.
It said the appointment of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo “is expected to generate increased visits of people and prominent public officials who would like to seek audience with His Eminence, thereby increasing the demand for flights.”
“The flight reduction, which caused the flights to fall mostly on weekends, is taking its toll on the government and the business sector, as transactions with the national government agencies have become more difficult and the movement of people, goods and services more expensive as government officials and businessmen, including goods and
Resolution 381 was forwarded to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Secretary of the DOTC0-ARMM and the chair/managing director of the ARMM’s RBOI.
Resume daily flights
The reduced number of days in operation was supposed to be from December 2013 to February 2014 only.
The resolution passed on February 24 by “the business sector and allied agencies and civic groups in Central Mindanao,” appealed for the resumption of regular daily flights at the Cotabato airport “until such time as the Department of Transportation and Communications and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines actually begin repairs and rehabilitation of Cotabato airport.”
The resolution said that if repair and rehabilitation “will take place very soon,” a more convenient flight schedule should be allowed – from Mondays to Thursdays instead of the weekend.
The resolution also called on Maguindanao and North Cotabato representatives to conduct a congressional inquiry on the status of the Cotabato airport and the governemnt’s plans and programs for Cotabato Congressional inquiry on the government’s plans and programs for the Cotabato airport “so that the general public may know how long the repairs and rehabilitation will take place, and how this will affect the utility of Cotabato airport, and what possible remedial or mitigation measures can be taken by the government to avoid inconvenience or disruption of public services.”
It said no public consultation was done “regarding the temporary circumstance so that there might be mitigating or remedial measures to avoid further inconveniencing the flying public.”
It also added that no announcement was made on the resumption of the daily flights to and from Cotabato, “and neither has there been an overt repair and rehabilitation of the rundway that would prevent the airport resuming the daily scheduled flights.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)