MANILA, January 23, 2004 (STAR) The government is preparing to take over operations at a multimillion-dollar Manila airport terminal after a German-led consortium was stripped of its franchise, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

The government "wants the terminal to open as soon as possible," Bunye told a news conference, adding that the President had ordered the transport department to "prepare a blueprint for a possible takeover" from the Fraport AG-led consortium.

Fraport owns a majority stake in the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), which was awarded the $650-million contract to build and operate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3).

In his press briefing at the Palace yesterday, Bunye said Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza has been designated officer-in-charge of the preparations for the blueprint for the government’s takeover of the facility.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo formed a three-man Cabinet committee to prepare the government’s takeover bid of NAIA-3 composed of the secretaries of transportation, trade and industry, and tourism.

Except for Mendoza who stayed in the Cabinet, the committee’s work was left hanging when former trade secretary Manuel Roxas II and former tourism secretary Richard Gordon, resigned from their respective posts to join the administration’s 12-member senatorial ticket.

Mrs. Arroyo swore in Cesar Purisima as her new DTI secretary last month and DOT Undersecretary Oscar Palabyab as officer-in-charge.

"Now that the SC decision has been handed down, this group... I suppose will be reorganized a little more to start the eventual takeover of the facilities," Bunye said.

He explained that Mendoza’s committee will still await the study and recommendations of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Solicitor General on the pending legal issues on the case, especially the compensation claims filed by the consortium before the World Bank.

Bunye, however, reiterated Mrs. Arroyo’s desire to see the opening of NAIA-3 at the soonest time possible.

"I believe that is everybody’s wish. Everybody wants the terminal opened as soon as possible and I believe the Filipino people will benefit from an early opening of those excellent facilities," Bunye stressed.

The High Court on Wednesday affirmed a May 2003 ruling voiding the Piatco deal, citing anomalies in the bidding and onerous provisions of the contract.

Fraport has said it stands to lose about $425 billion in investments from the project, and has sought arbitration from the World Bank to force the government to compensate it.

"This is a victory for good governance and for ordinary Filipino people fighting for a change in our system of governance," Bunye said.

"The general effect of the final decision is that this would hasten the eventual takeover and operation of the NAIA Terminal-3," he said.

The franchise had been awarded to Piatco durng the short-lived administration of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Bunye declined to answer how the government intended to address the arbitration case filed by Fraport, saying a legal team was still studying it.

The terminal, designed to handle 13 million passengers yearly and ease passenger traffic at two existing terminals, was originally due to open late in 2002. — AFP, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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