[OFF LIMITS: Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Alfonso Cusi stands outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 complex after he was refused entry by security guards to inspect the property yesterday. Photo by RUDY SANTOS ]

MANILA, October 6, 2004  (STAR) By Sandy Araneta - General Manager Alfonso Cusi and other officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) were barred yesterday from entering the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) on orders of the management of contractor Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco).

A security guard told the MIAA officials he had not received any instruction from Piatco management to allow them entry into the building.

Cusi and his companions, who were in a convoy of vehicles, returned to the MIAA administration building, where they held a press conference.

They were joined later at the press conference by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Solicitor General Eduardo Benipayo, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, Press Undersecretary Isabel de Leon, and retired Supreme Court justice Florentino Feliciano who heads the legal team of the government panel negotiating with Piatco.

At the press conference, Feliciano warned Piatco officials that the government could go to court and file expropriation proceedings to get control of NAIA-3’s facilities.

"We have tried to do this by consensual methods," he said.

"But Piatco has not agreed to do this. The government has other options which it is assessing right now to carry out. That is one option that is being carefully assessed by the government.

"Should the government exercise its right of expropriation, it will do so only after informing the (International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) tribunal. We don’t want ICSID to think that it is being disregarded by the Republic."

On the other hand, Ermita said President Arroyo, consistent with the national interest, is determined to open NAIA-3 to the public.

"But today, the Republic has been locked out of Terminal 3 — a building that stands on government land," he said.

"MIAA has been refused the as-built drawings and detailed engineering designs. It has been refused access to the bill of particulars, including records of equipment installed," he added.

Ermita said MIAA officials tried to visit NAIA Terminal 3 yesterday to show the public that the terminal could possibly be opened for their use.

"But we were turned away," he said.

"Though the Republic does not consider that a mere ocular visit will give it technically relevant information to determine the safety and fitness of the terminal, we thought that Piatco would appreciate the Republic’s sensitivity to public concern that the government study all options to provide improved transport facilities, including the possible opening of terminal 3."

Ermita said the government needs to have experts inspect NAIA-3 to determine if the lives of Filipino travelers would be put at risk when they use the terminal.

"This risk includes serious concerns whether Terminal 3 will pass the tight security requirements imposed by the FAA, the ICAO and the TSA," he said.

"This terminal was built with a mall accessible to the public, and the vulnerability of the area to infiltration by terrorist elements is a matter that will be closely scrutinized by all international aviation and security authorities."

Benipayo said Piatco would not be allowed to close down NAIA 3, and that the government will do everything to open it to the public.

"The government has never said — and will never say — otherwise," he said.

"However, the opening of NAIA Terminal 3 must take place only after three non-negotiable conditions have been complied with: first the government must be satisfied that the entire terminal is structurally sound, and can be used for its intended purpose.

"Second, the terminal must be safe and secured against external threats, and third, the actual and reasonable cost of the terminal must be independently determined and audited, based on verifiable evidence."

Benipayo said the safety of the traveling public — whether they be Filipinos or foreigners — cannot be subordinated to the unjustified refusal of Piatco to allow inspection of the terminal.

"And while it continues to refuse significant and comprehensive access to government inspectors, Piatco — together with its partner, Fraport — has been tireless in its attempts to salvage a winning solution out of the mess it got itself into," he said.

"Before the International Chamber of Commerce Tribunal, Piatco has tried to get the government to enforce its contracts, or to renegotiate a new contact with it, or to pay it the amount of $565 million, allegedly representing ‘just compensation.’ Fraport, on the other hand, claims that the government has violated treaty obligations and is asking for payment of $425 million."

Mendoza said Piatco management gave them "verbal" permission last Friday to inspect the NAIA-3 facilities yesterday, but that the other day the firm informed that the permission had been revoked on advise of its lawyer.

"But we went there (yesterday), hoping that we would be allowed (to enter NAIA-3)," he said. "They should consider that they are sitting on government land."

The MIAA officials with Cusi were Elpidio Mendoza, assistant general manager for engineering; lawyer Oscar Paras, senior assistant general manager; retired Gen. Angel Atutubo, assistant general manager of security and emergency services; Judith Dolot, Public Affairs Office manager; and Consuelo Bungag, media affairs division chief.

Wishing to open NAIA-3 immediately, the government negotiated again with Piatco last year to allow construction of NAIA-3 to be completed.

Piatco won the contract to construct and operate NAIA-3, but the contract was later voided by the Supreme Court.

In response, Piatco filed a request for arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, France, while its partner, Fraport filed a request for arbitration with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, D

NAIA-3 was mothballed after the government and Piatco failed to agree on the amount of money spent in constructing the terminal.

Reported by: Sol  Jose  Vanzi

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