Airport, seaport projects hit gridlock in Pangasinan
CALL THEM “projects interrupted.” Pangasinan, one of the country’s biggest provinces (land area: 536,818 hectares) that is home to more than 2.7 million people, has long dreamed of being accessible by air and water transportation.
This vision of having an international airport in Alaminos City and an international seaport in neighboring Sual town was almost within reach in the past years. These projects, however, have hit a gridlock.
In Alaminos, a concrete road that crosses rice lands and hills is visible from the highway. The road leads to the proposed site of an international airport near a beach where passengers can view the Hundred Islands National Park.
The concrete road ends after about 300 meters, followed by some 200 meters of unpaved portion that leads to a hilltop that was cleared to give way to the road.
From that vantage point is a view of verdant hills, rice fields and pockets of forests. The road was envisioned to lead to the airport site that straddles the villages of Sabangan, Pandan and Telbang. However, this path now leads to a farm-to-market road that traverses more rice fields with newly planted palay.
Had the plan pushed through, the airport should have been operating as a domestic airport as early as 2012. The original timetable had set 2017 for the airport to accommodate international flights.
It was former Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza who proposed the airport project during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to boost the tourism and industrial potentials of Pangasinan.
The national government had set aside P135.7 million so the city government could acquire 158 ha (including 13.5 ha for access road) for the project. The Department of Public Works and Highways
(DPWH), on the other hand, was in charge of building the access road.
The project, however, did not take off under the administration of President Aquino.
Even the land acquisition was not perfected, said Alaminos Mayor Arthur Celeste. Some landowners, he said, have not been paid because they are based abroad and the P20 million set aside for compensation is kept in a trust fund.
“I wrote the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) about the project but I did not get a reply. Some months back, the DOTC staff came and asked about the money for land acquisition. We told them the balance is still intact. But that was it, we do not know what the national government would do about the project,” Celeste said.
Not enough traffic
He said he met with Ramon Ang, president of San Miguel Corp., to ask him if SMC would want to continue the airport development through a private-public partnership (PPP).
But a study undertaken by SMC showed there was not enough traffic that would be generated by an international airport in Alaminos, he said.
“Our only hope [for the project to continue] is the national government, but maybe the next administration [can do that],”
The domestic airport would need P2.2 billion to build. The cost would double if the facility is upgraded into an international airport, Celeste said.
Seaport in Sual
Sual Mayor Roberto Arcinue said the desire to have an international seaport dates back to the early 1960s, with the late Pangasinan Gov. Aguedo Agbayani pushing the project when he represented the district in Congress.
In 2012, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) put up a commercial seaport in Sual. However, only the first phase of the project, worth P90 million, was completed in November that year. The port could only service flat-bottomed vessels that travel through shallow waters.
The port has remained largely idle. The area has become a favorite spot for students and residents to while away time and wait for sunset.
Arcinue said the facility needs to be expanded toward the sea, where water is 10 to 12 meters deep, so it can service international vessels. A third section would further extend the wharf to the sea, where the depth is from 18 to 25 meters.
The provincial government, through Gov. Amado Espino Jr., wanted to finance the project’s second phase but negotiations between provincial and town officials fell through, Arcinue said.
A foreign investor wanted to put up an international seaport in the town but this would be built in another village. Celeste said the project needs $1.2 billion to complete.
Both Arcinue and Celeste rued how politics get in the way of big ticket projects that boost tourism and economic growth of the province.
“Perhaps because the airport was proposed under the Arroyo administration, the Aquino administration did not touch it,” Celeste said.
Arcinue said Pangasinan may have the best leaders but the province has been left behind in terms of infrastructure development.
“We have a voting strength of more than a million. But why can’t we use that strength to oblige national officials to put up major infrastructure projects here? We are bigger than La Union and Ilocos Norte but they have seaports and airports,” he said.
Arcinue said a port is important because shipping cargo by sea from Metro Manila to Pangasinan would be cheaper than transporting goods by land.
A seaport would also mean jobs and taxes for the town and the province, he said.
Celeste said he believed an international airport is needed in Alaminos City as it hosts the Hundred Islands National Park, one of the top tourism attractions in the Ilocos region.
Pangasinan has three airstrips that accommodate light planes—in Rosales, Binalonan and the capital Lingayen.
“But Alaminos is the center of Pangasinan’s tourism area and it is less that an hour to reach Lingayen by land,” Celeste said.
He said many tourists are discouraged from going to Pangasinan because of the travel time from airports in Metro Manila and Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
“Even from the airport in Pampanga, it takes three hours to reach Alaminos. Some travelers even take longer as they get lost, passing from Tarlac to Urdaneta City, then to Dagupan City then to Alaminos. With an airport, it would take less than an hour to reach Alaminos from Manila or Clark,” he said.
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