By Ding Cervantes
March 12, 2010
CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga, – Does Malacañang have a special interest in who should construct the new passenger terminal costing about P6.5 billion at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) here?
Some 300 employees of the Clark International airport Corp. (CIAC) went out of their offices at around 3 p.m. yesterday to stage a noise barrage in protest of a proposal to allow a Kuwaiti firm to take over the airport project.
The Kuwait-based group, Al Mal, together with its local counterpart PRIME, is reportedly being pushed by Malacañang allegedly through Nestor Mangio, chairman of the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC), a CIAC source told The STAR. Mangio was in a board meeting yesterday and could not be disturbed.
“We stand to lose our jobs if such a takeover occurs,” said CIAC union president Marvin Pineda.
In late 2008, the CIAC’s joint venture special committee (JVSC) already rejected Al Mal’s proposal as “onerous.”
Initially, the CIAC put in place the so-called “competitive challenge scheme” to choose the contractor for the terminal.
Under the scheme, interested contractors were told to submit their project proposals to the CIAC, which would then pick out the best offer.
The offer would then be allowed to be challenged by other interested parties until the best is chosen. The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel approved the scheme, the first to be implemented in the country.
The joint venture will be a 70-30 partnership, with CIAC getting the 30 percent, according to the terms of agreement drawn up by the CIAC for the bidders.
Under the new scheme, the CIAC expressed “high hopes” sometime in April last year on the project after final evaluation of the proposal of the Pacific Avia Group Inc. (PAGI) to construct Terminal 2 of the DMIA.
In an interview early last year, Romeo Dyoco Jr., CIAC vice president for administration and finance and JVSC chairman, said his committee’s technical working group was assessing PAGI as the CIAC’s likely partner for the terminal project.
“Should PAGI pass the evaluation and eligibility check, it will then face competitive challenge from other interested parties who will also offer proposals to build, finance, design and operate the P3-billion to P7-billion Terminal 2 project as a joint venture project with CIAC,” he said.
The CIAC source, however, said the bidding on the Terminal 2 project was suspended after President Arroyo’s visit to the Middle East in May last year wherein she allegedly committed the project to Kuwait’s Al Kharafi Group, whose subsidiary is Al Mal. Mangio was with the President during the trip.
A Malacañang bulletin then also reported that the President had secured a $1.2-billion investment from Al Kharafi for the joint venture deal to build a new airport terminal and aviation city here.
The press release wrongly identified Al Mal as a subsidiary of PAGI, the source said.
According to CIAC records, PAGI’s foreign partners included Selex, Egis and Lei
gthon, while its local partners were A.M. Oreta Construction Co., DHL Philippines, DRI Holdings, EGIS AVIA S.A., Pentagon Development Corp., Bank of Commerce, and Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose. There was no mention of any links with Al Kharafi.
CIAC officials, according to the source, were asked not to issue any statement on the new terminal project until the President had arrived from her Middle East trip.
Later, however, Victor Jose Luciano, CIAC president and chief exec
utive officer, clarified that the CIAC had not made any commitment to any group.
Another source in the CIAC said former Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila had backed Mangio’s support for Al Mal.
During the President’s visit to the Middle East, Favila was quoted as saying that the Kuwaiti firm intended to invest $100 million to $300 million for the Terminal 2 project.
CIAC sources said the Kuwaiti firm’s proposal was onerous, including its plan to take over the
DMIA’s Terminal 1 for $20 million for 25 years despite the terminal’s potential revenue of $120 million.
Al Mal also reportedly wanted to have control of virtually the entire 2,500-hectare aviation complex at Clark in its bid to construct a second and third passenger airport terminal.
Palace executive introduced Kuwait company, admits Clark official
In a telephone interview, Nestor Mangio, however, did not identify the Palace official who endorsed Al Mal but stressed that “nothing has been signed yet precisely because we could not agree on the terms of reference (TOR).”
This, even as the CIAC board of directors met the other day to give Al Mal seven days within which to accept CIAC’s TOR which exempts Terminal 1 from being taken over by the Kuwaiti firm.
The CIAC’s TOR provided space for the signatures of Mangio and Loay Al Kharafi, identified in the document as the chairman of Al Mal Investment Co.
Contract being rushed?
The contract, according to sources, is allegedly being rushed so it would not be caught by the election ban on the signing of government contracts on March 26.
Under the proposed TOR, Al Mal, identified as a vehicle of the M.A. Kharafi Group based in Kuwait, “shall develop the Clark civil aviation complex and the more or less 1,500 hectares land adjacent at a minimum investment capitol of $1.2 billion through a joint venture company with CIAC.”
When President Arroyo made an official visit to the Middle East last year, Malacañang issued a news bulletin reporting that the President had secured a $1.2-billion investment from Al Kharafi for a joint venture to build a new airport terminal and aviation city here.
The proposed TOR stated that “it has been agreed that for Phase One, the joint venture company shall develop Terminal 2 at a total investment cost of $100 million with a capacity for seven million passengers per year.”
No one else from CIAC could explain why Al Mal is again being considered for the project despite its proposal being junked in December 2008 by the CIAC’s Joint Venture Special Committee (JVSC) as being “onerous.”
Al Mal has been negotiating for its own version of the TOR, which allocates to itself the sole authority to develop all areas within a 50-mile radius of the airport, as well as full control of the existing Terminal 1, which the CIAC is currently upgrading.
Al Mal reportedly offered only $20 million for its takeover of Terminal 1 for 45 years, renewable for another 25 years, amid projections that the terminal could generate an income of $120 million during the period.
Apart from Terminal 2, Al Mal also intends to build a third terminal for the DMIA.
CIAC employees went out of their offices the other day to hold a noise barrage to protest Al Mal’s almost full takeover of the aviation complex here, as they feared for their jobs.
Mangio, however, said he later explained to the employees that part of the negotiations with Al Mal included their continuing employment.
“Only employees of the existing Terminal 1 would be affected,” he added.
Mangio recalled that the Palace “introduced” Al Mal to CIAC executives sometime in 2008, adding that CIAC president Victor Jose Luciano was present then.
Luciano could not be contacted yesterday as he was with some guests.
Mangio said he has been reporting to both President Arroyo and former Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila on developments on Al Mal’s bid to get the terminal projects here.
Favila, he said, was the Cabinet member in charge of overseeing foreign investments
in the country.
“We had been looking for investors since 2008. There were Chinese, American, Filipino contractors but they all failed to comply with the requirements,” Mangio recalled. Al Mal was among those which failed, he admitted.
Last year, the CIAC, however, again received “unsolicited proposals” that included those from Al Mal. “Al Mal was chosen as the best. We were following all government rules and regulations.”
A CIAC source, however, said the CIAC board again rejected Al Mal’s proposals only two weeks ago.
Al Mal has reportedly linked up with a local firm called PRIME to comply with the law limiting foreign ownership of public facilities in the country, to justify the requirement of a 70-30 percent joint venture. PRIME was reportedly set up by three businessmen, including Batangas Rep. Hermenigildo Mandanas.
Mandanas and Mangio were among those who were with the President in her visit to Davos, Switzerland last year, sources said.
Sometime in April last year, CIAC expressed “high hopes” on the completion of Terminal 2 amid a proposal from the Pacific Avia Group Inc. (PAGI) which was then being considered.
No CIAC official could immediately be contacted to explain what happened to PAGI.
Reacting to the Clark airport issue, opposition senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia yesterday advised President Arroyo to “back off” from the “midnight deal” on the new DMIA terminal.
De Venecia, one of the senatorial bets of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said Mrs. Arroyo should leave the project to the next administration.
“There appears to be something fishy about the proposal to allow a Kuwaiti firm to take over the airport project,” he said.
“Insiders are confirming that as early as 2008, the CIAC’s Joint Venture Special Committee had already rejected Al Mal’s proposal as onerous. The backroom maneuvers to award the deal to the Kuwaiti firm smacks of a midnight contract aimed as lining the greedy pockets of unscrupulous Palace brokers,” De Venecia said.
He said Mrs. Arroyo “will do well to tell her boys to back off from this deal. They should not forget that the Clark International Airport is dedicated to the memory of her father. They cannot sully his memory with a midnight transaction that may end up to be grossly overpriced and absolutely questionable.” – With reports from Jose Rodel Clapano