MANILA, August 31, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang will keep its hands out of the buyout deal between Frankfurt airport operator Fraport AG and Manila Hotel Corp., which now controls Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), the consortium that built the mothballed Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3).

"The reported deal between Manila Hotel Corp. and the foreign shareholders of Piatco, namely Fraport Frankfurt AG of Germany, Nissho Iwal of Japan and SB Airport of Singapore, is a transaction between private parties, where the government has no participation," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a press briefing yesterday.

Ermita said the government is more concerned about having the terminal open for operations before the end of the year.

Malacañang could not yet make an assessment of Manila Hotel Corp.’s reported purchase of Piatco shares, particularly on whether or not the deal would be advantageous to the government.

Talks between Piatco’s new management and the government, represented by Ermita, began last Monday to discuss the legal dispute over the terminal and to expedite the government’s efforts to get the mothballed facility up and running by November.

Jose Lina, Manila Hotel Corp. president, said it was his company’s intention to open "the state-of-the-art, world-class" terminal "as soon as possible."

He would not give a specific timeframe for the opening, although the government earlier this year said it had hoped to have the controversial terminal operational by early next year.

The $650-million terminal has been mothballed since 2003 when President Arroyo revoked Piatco’s "build-operate-transfer" contract with the government on the grounds that certain terms were illegally renegotiated by her deposed predecessor Joseph Estrada in 1998.

The terminal, which was designed to handle 13 million passengers a year, was originally scheduled to open in late 2002 to ease passenger traffic at the two existing airport terminals.

The existing terminal is old, dilapidated and has been described by many commentators as an embarrassment to the country.

Lina said the opening of the new terminal will "provide much-needed employment opportunities, promote the Philippine tourism industry, enhance the investment climate and boost the image and credibility of the Philippine government and Filipino people."

He added: "This world-class airport project is internationally known and ready for opening to serve international airlines and travelers."

Manila Hotel is owned by Filipino-Chinese tycoon Emilio Yap.

Fraport, which had been seeking compensation of $465 million for the terminal project, took its case to arbitration in Washington while Piatco has a separate arbitration case in Singapore. — With AFP, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved