DAVAO CITY, DECEMBER 2, 2003  (STAR) By Edith Regalado - P5.5-B Davao int’l airport to boost Mindanao growth

After waiting over a decade, this city now has its own international airport and with it comes the promise of economic growth in Mindanao.

President Arroyo led the inauguration rites for the newly completed, P5.5-billion Davao International Airport (DIA) yesterday, which she said was the realization of the dreams of Davaoeños and Mindanaoans

"This is the start of our getting into new horizons for the development of Mindanao," the President said, as she expressed elation over the state-of-the art navigational instrument and airport facilities.

The DIA, she said, is the culmination of many years of dreaming and will maximize the potential of Mindanao as a food basket and its role in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

"I have been with you in your dreams from the beginning," the President told the crowd that gathered to witness the inauguration of the new airport. "We must always be together to make those dreams come true because our ultimate dream is for Mindanao to be united and victorious over the problem of poverty."

The new airport can handle 1.2 million passengers and 84,600 tons of cargo a year.

Besides an expected increase in flights to Davao City, the DIA is also expected to pave the way for the revitalization of the EAGA geo-economic grouping, which has a combined market of 50 million consumers and encompasses the subnational economies of East Indonesia, East Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Mindanao and Palawan.

"EAGA slowed down during the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and it is now again time to revive it, especially with infrastructure such as the new Davao airport," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The DIA will directly complement the thrust of the BIMP-EAGA grouping to open more trade and tourism routes between Palawan and Mindanao and the federal states of Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia; the provinces of North, Central and South Sulawesi, East, South and Central Kalimantan, Irian Jaya, Maluku, North Maluku and Gorontalo in Indonesia and the entire sultanate of Brunei Darussalam.

The President said investments and tourism are expected to increase in Mindanao now that the DIA is operational.

"Now, more than ever, the world will be able to climb Mount Apo or visit the orchid farms or eat the fruits, or pay homage to the Philippine eagle, or lay around the beaches of Davao," she said. "Now, more than ever, BIMP-EAGA can be revived for the good of Mindanao."

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte also stressed the importance of the new airport in attracting investors and tourists to the city.

"We can compete in the global market with structures like this airport," Duterte said.

The DIA now services international flights, including direct flights to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Local tourism and business leaders are planning to establish Hajj flights to the Middle East for the Muslim communities in Mindanao.

The President said the government also plans to use the Davao airport as an aviation training center for EAGA.

Local airlines already using the DIA include the flag carrier Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Airways. International airlines SilkAir and Indonesia’s Merpati now also land at and take off from the DIA.

The airport took over 10 years to build — the project was first announced in 1992 by then President Fidel Ramos. The actual construction of the DIA, however, only began in 2000, during the term of then President Joseph Estrada.

Touted as the crown jewel of the Davao Integrated Development Plan, the DIA was built through budgetary allocations and loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Investment Bank that Mrs. Arroyo ensured and safeguarded during her stint as senator.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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