One of President Duterte’s promises during his campaign is to fervently help the poor. This can only be achieved by making the Philippines more inclusive through effective transportation connectivity in our country. One good example is China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which connects countries around China through infrastructure, roads, and railways, among others.

For our country to progress, we must do the same. We have to develop roads, bridges, ports, airports, subway systems, and railways, to connect our provinces to the greater network of cities. Through these efforts, we can link the farms to the markets and help our farmers, fisherfolk, and other entrepreneurs reach a wider market.

Additionally, with effective and efficient connectivity across the country, we can bring more tourists to our destination islands such as Boracay, Siargao, and Palawan, among many others. The more tourists we have, the more entrepreneurs we need to provide products and services which can complete their experience and make them want to come back.

As presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, I’m always seeking new opportunities for collaboration. And seeing how private and public partnerships can be further strengthened, I brought together some of our “Big Brothers” in Go Negosyo – big conglomerates and players in industry – to help realize the current administration’s economic vision.

During a dinner meeting in Malacanang last January 2017, the conglomerates formed an informal group to pledge their services to the development programs of this administration. The conglomerates have a sincere desire to help the country. From this big group of big brother entrepreneurs, the NAIA Consortium was formed and agreed to rehabilitate the airport in Manila to uplift our image to all our foreign guests.

The NAIA Consortium is composed 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. They are tasked with the rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airports.

After months of negotiation and a series of meetings, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), led by Sec. Arthur Tugade, gave the greenlight to the NAIA Consortium for the rehabilitation, operations, and maintenance of the airports, with a budget of P106 billion to be spent over a 15-year period.

We had several talks with Sec. Tugade, Sec. Sonny Dominguez (Department of Finance), Sec. Ben Diokno (Department of Budget and Management), Sec. Ernie Pernia (National Economic Development Authority), and Sec. Mark Villar (Department of Public Works and Highways), to discuss the development plans of the government and how the private sector can help.

For years, NAIA has been tagged as the “world’s worst airport,” by the travel website “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports.” But as of October last year, we have been removed from the embarrassing list. This reflects the improvements in services and infrastructure made in the past 12 months. Now, with the approval of DOTr, we hope the rehabilitation efforts will be continued.

Secretary Tugade shared in a news briefing: “We have a decision recommending the issuance of original proponent status (OPS) to NAIA Consortium. We gave the recommendation to MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority), because it is the primary agency, not the DOTr.”

The MIAA will discuss the proposal in its next meeting and will issue its final approval at the soonest possible time, as reported by its general manager Ed Monreal in a briefing last Tuesday. Once approved, the proposal will be forwarded to DOTr, then to NEDA for the investment coordination. We are positive the NAIA Consortium’s proposal will pass the final screening of MIAA and will acquire the original proponent status.

With the NAIA Consortium’s proposal, we can expect an expansion of existing terminals, upgrade of facilities, and improvement of airport services. These will hopefully improve not just the perception, but also the experience of fellow Filipinos and our foreign guests in our country. I agree that our airports are the first welcoming experience of guests, therefore, it is imperative that we improve our services to better showcase the Filipinos’ warmth and hospitality.

Aside from the NAIA developments, the consortium is also discussing the rehabilitation of other key airports such as those in Sangley, Bulacan, and other provinces, to foster greater tourism and trade. There are other development projects in the pipeline such as new ports, highways, and skyways, which we had discussed in meetings last year.

While we have competent people in the government today, I understand that there is so much to be done, so we must, in any form possible, help. In my honest opinion, private-public partnerships are key to expediting these projects. Transparency also is important to avoid unnecessary cases filed against government officials.

The NAIA Consortium is the result of like-minded conglomerates coming together; each sharing a sincere desire to help the country. For me, this development is an important step towards achieving a world-class airport.

I am glad the economic team led by Sec. Dominguez had met with us. Through this collaboration, Build Build Build projects will assuredly be rolled out sooner, and we can all take part in greater economic inclusivity.

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