, January 22, 2005  (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin  - At least 15 million more foreign tourists are expected to visit the country as soon as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) opens this June, officials said yesterday.

"Once NAIA-3 is fully operational, the country can offer additional world-class airport terminal service that would serve as an impressive gateway to our nation," Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) general manager Robert Dean Barbers said.

He pointed out that with the opening of NAIA-3, the Philippines could capture at least five percent of the estimated 300 million tourists flocking to the Asia-Pacific region in 2005, and "even surpass our projected three million tourist arrivals in the country."

The government announced earlier that NAIA-3 will be operational within six months. Barbers said the PTA is on an intensive campaign to attract foreign and local tourists into availing themselves of affordable tour packages offered by 13 agencies and field offices affiliated with the PTA.

Meanwhile, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Alfonso Cusi sent a "written guarantee" that NAIA-3 will open by June to station managers of airline companies operating at NAIA’s Terminal 1.

Airline companies, however, said the letter, dated Jan. 12, is not enough for them to transfer their operations to NAIA-3.

Cusi, in his letter, assured airline companies that "all government agencies directly or indirectly involved in the (NAIA-3) project are presently being fully mobilized to ensure that the target date for the opening and operation of (NAIA-3) is met." He encouraged airline officials to "accelerate your planning activities" for the transfer to NAIA-3, and to submit "your office and other passenger terminal requirements soonest so we can act on them accordingly."

Cusi told airline companies that to ensure proper coordination of activities, the MIAA’s NAIA-3 Project Management Office will resume its regular meetings with airline officials on "operational readiness for terminal transfer" every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at the International Passenger Terminal Boardroom starting Jan. 18.

Airline officials, reacting to Cusi’s letter, made a list of what their firms need before they can transfer to NAIA-3. The list includes facilities for baggage handling, customs, access roads, and computer link-ups.

They also said Cusi did not mention a definite date on his letter, simply citing that NAIA-3 will be open by June 2005. "A one-month difference is quite long," one airline representative said.

Lufthansa station manager Santiago Medrana III, vice chairman of the Airline Operators Council (AOC), said earlier that they need "a written memo saying the airport will open at a particular date. We will be needing this to be sent to head offices abroad to justify our preparation."

The AOC is an international organization whose members include 32 airlines and six ground handling service companies operating at the NAIA complex. Medrana told government officials it would take them six months from the time they receive the written commitment to transfer from NAIA-1 to NAIA-3.

Cathay Pacific station manager Ed Monreal said his firm, as the largest foreign airline operating in the country right now, has asked the MIAA for six months’ lead time upon signing of contract. Cathay Pacific has six flights daily to and from Manila and Hong Kong.

He said the transfer to NAIA-3 would cost airlines millions of pesos, and they would need to revise their budget to cover the cost of building offices and lounges within the terminal.

Monreal also said they need eight weeks to set up computer connections and links with their software and internet providers, and that a lot of time is needed to train their staff.

Officials of the Board of Airline Representatives, another international airline organization, cited it would take time to prepare communication lines and publish schedules.

‘Back-channeling’ judge?

Government lawyers, led by Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, are set to ask the Supreme Court to remove the NAIA-3 expropriation case from the sala of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 117 Judge Henrick Gingoyon and re-raffle it to another judge.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who heads the Cabinet committee tasked with ensuring the smooth opening of NAIA-3, said the government decided to take this course of action after noting Gingoyon’s undue haste and interest when he ruled that the government should immediately pay the $62.3 million deposit to the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), the consortium that built the terminal.

Ermita expressed surprise at Gingoyon’s controversial decision since Piatco, the other party in the expropriation case, did not even ask for it.

"The Solicitor General has already filed a petition to the Supreme Court to inhibit" Gingoyon, he said, adding that depending on the ruling by the high tribunal, the expropriation case "has to be re-raffled." — With Sandy Araneta, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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