CATARMAN, Northern Samar—President Benigno Aquino III discovered on Friday that it’s no fun to land on this town’s short and accident-prone runway, especially on board a Philippine Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane.
Mr. Aquino had a rough landing on Friday morning in this sleepy town, site of the first leg of his three-town swing through Northern Samar and Southern Leyte provinces intended to ensure a 12-0 win for his handpicked senatorial candidates.
Only a day after returning from Brunei, the President was already back on the campaign trail, but his eagerness to resume campaigning for Team PNoy was met with one minor air turbulence: the Marcos-era Fokker F28 presidential plane conked out during a scheduled trip from Dumaguete City to Cebu for a campaign rally last week.
So he had to fly in a C-130, which is built for maneuvering on Catarman’s perilous 1.6-kilometer runway.
He last boarded this Air Force workhorse when he brought back the remains of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo from Masbate City to Naga City in August 2012.
‘Rocks are coming out’
“When I disembarked (from the plane), many wondered why I kept on staring at the pavement. I told them, ‘look, the pavement is almost gone and the rocks are coming out. A tarmac should be on level ground,’” said Mr. Aquino, recounting his initial impression of the airport during a rally at the Freedom Park here.
He recalled that the airport was actually “intersecting a highway,” meaning it is also used for other purposes (people and vehicles cross the runway since houses serve as the airport’s de facto perimeter fence).
Some airlines had already ceased plying the Manila-Catarman route as the number of passengers using the airport had dwindled through the years because of safety concerns.
State of disrepair
“Of course, a runway should be flat. There may come a time when tourists would start flocking to this place and they would find it incredulous that the runway is littered with humps. That’s the end of our tourism program,” said Mr. Aquino.
The President learned from local officials that the runway has been in a state of disrepair for the last 40 years.
The President was also greeted with the unseemly sight of a dilapidated terminal in dire need of a fresh coat of paint and major renovations.
Security was also evidently lax.
Right then, the President decided to provide allocation for the rehabilitation of the terminal and the upgrading of the runway.
The transportation department has already bid out the P7.6-million Catarman Airport Development project, which consists of an asphalt overlay of 128 meters of the runway and the construction of 264-meter perimeter fence.
Time to buy new plane
Brig. Gen. Ramon Mateo Dizon, Presidential Security Group chief, agreed that although the C-130 was a safer alternative for landing and takeoff in shorter runways, he deemed it wise for the leader of Asia’s so-called “rising star” to rely on the services of a new plane.
“What we’re saying is it’s time to buy a new plane. As to what kind of plane, it’s up to the experts (at the Air Force),” said Dizon.
“I don’t want to preempt the Air Force. Their procurement process is not finished yet,” Dizon added.
At the Freedom Park, Mr. Aquino announced before a sea of yellow-clad Liberal Party supporters that the National Economic Development Authority (Neda), which he chairs, had already approved the Samar Pacific Coastal Road project that will connect Northern Samar and Eastern Samar.
The Neda also assured funding for the 220-kilometer Samar road rehabilitation project that is presently under construction, including the so-called “abortion road” in Eastern Samar, an unpaved highway filled with large potholes.