No NAIA Privatization for Now; Arroyo Leaving It to Next Administration; Justice Vitug's Dissenting Opinion Questions SC Jurisdiction in Piatco Case

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Byline: GENALYN D. KABILING

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would rather let the next administration handle the privatization of Ninoy Aquino International Airports (NAIA) Terminal 3 while her government temporarily runs the new passenger terminal after the Supreme Court nullified the operating contracts of a Filipino-German consortium that built the project.

"The President said that Terminal 3 would eventually be privatized but she would prefer that its privatization be handled by the next administration," her spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Bunye pointed out the immediate task at hand would be "to open the terminal at the earliest possible time."

The President assured "full international standards of passenger safety and security" when the government temporarily runs the new passenger terminal once the Supreme Court ruling becomes final.

She insisted the terminal operation will eventually be handed over to the private sector.

Asked when the government can open the new terminal, Bunye replied: "It will be probably four months counting from the time of final resolution."

The four months leeway would involve completion of the infrastructure work like the access roads, bidding process, and introduction of new safety improvements of the terminal, Bunye said.

"The initial stage of the takeover will be temporary without compensation. And the reason for that would be to safeguard the assets and take steps to make sure the airport opens as soon as possible," he said.

The Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), the consortium that involves German airport operator Fraport AG that built the terminal, announced it would appeal the court ruling.

The President said the investors of the NAIA Terminal 3 project will be justly compensated.

"All legitimate commercial claims will be justly compensated. There will be absolute fairness, transparency, and due regard to the public interest," she said.

Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin expressed doubt the 2004 national budget will be utilized to pay off the Piatco investors since discussions about compensation will take longer than expected.

The Budget Department is already preparing the national budget for next year.

"Negotiations will be time-consuming since there will be due diligence when experts look into how much a certain investor spent for the facility and what is the value of the facility," she said in an interview with DZMM.

Bunye said the government will tap the Commission on Audit (CoA) and a "neutral" international arbiter in discussions about compensation.

"We have to give a proper evaluation first to the investments that investors have given the project," he said.

The investors include Fraport AG of Germany and the Cheng family, which are members of the Philippine Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) consortium that won the build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract.

Bunye said the President directed Philippine Ambassador To Germany Minerva Jean Falcon to brief the German government on the High Court's ruling and the possible action to be taken by the administration "to see to it that foreign investors are treated fairly and equitably."

The President likewise ordered Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong to refer the SC decision on Piatco to the Office of the Ombudsman for further legal action against government officials and private individuals who approved the contracts for the construction of the passenger terminal

"The legal process will be threshed out expeditiously and systematically, while airport operations will push through under a comprehensive road map that will maximize economic impact, tourism gains, and public convenience," she said.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Piatco contract was contrary to public policy and should have been void from the start. It said those responsible for the flawed bidding should be held accountable. …