, January 27, 2005  (STAR)  The government wants to operate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) for several months before embarking on a bidding process, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said yesterday.

"Matagal pa ‘yan. Not in the near future," Mendoza said, noting there is no timetable for the terminal to be bid out. "What we plan to do is we pay the just compensation and then we operate and then we bid out."

Speaking with reporters, Mendoza vowed the NAIA-3 will open by June this year. Although, he said this can be hindered if problems come up on the terminal’s "structural integrity" during inspection.

But the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), the consortium that built NAIA-3, stressed it is a world-class, state-of-the-art terminal ready for operations.

"Why would the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) invite hundreds of visitors including airline (representatives) to NAIA Terminal 3 and repeatedly bring its own employees to the facility if it were structurally defective and posed a safety risk?"

Piatco spokeswoman lawyer Liwayway Vinzons-Chato said in a statement yesterday.

The government’s six-month timetable for the opening of NAIA-3, which is covered by a written guarantee from the MIAA, clearly disproves its earlier pronouncements on the terminal’s supposed structural flaws.

Using Piatco’s own funds, the terminal has been ready for operations since December 2002, Chato said. "The government has not delivered a single centavo to Piatco for NAIA-3, even as it has seized it."

She accused the government of giving excuses to delay the payment and demanded immediate just compensation to Piatco. Otherwise, Chato said the government must return possession of the terminal to them.

Financial compensation is being battled in the courts between the government and Piatco. The NAIA-3 has been mothballed for over a year now after the government and Piatco failed to agree on the amount spent in constructing it.

Earlier, Chato said that if the government refuses to forge a compromise agreement before the expropriation process ends, the consortium will certainly join the bidding process to regain possession of the terminal.

Amid expropriation proceedings which the government filed at a Pasay City regional trial court, Mendoza said the government — through the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) — was pulling all stops to make the terminal operational by June.

"We have our schedule and we will abide by our schedule," he said.

Mendoza also downplayed the effects of the legal wrangling being waged in the courts by Piatco on their efforts.

"It’s another issue. Basta we have the possession, wala na kaming problema dyan. Tuloy tuloy kami," Mendoza said.

Specifically, Mendoza said these efforts are centered on ensuring the structural integrity of the terminal.

"The major glitch in operating the terminal is its structural integrity. But if this will be corrected on time, we see no hindrance in operating this," the DOTC chief said.

With inspections ongoing, Mendoza assured the government will see to it that NAIA-3 "is structurally safe and that we will comply with international standards."

Piatco, on the other hand, pointed out that if there were indeed defects in the construction of NAIA-3, the government’s targeted opening by June would be far-fetched.

"How can a building as massive as Terminal 3 be operative by June if indeed there are major outstanding issues such as its structural integrity?" Chato asked.

Piatco had offered to lease NAIA-3 to the MIAA, which will operate it, under a revenue-sharing scheme.

Under this arrangement, the government would have been able to make NAIA-3 operational with minimal cash outlay.

"The government would have had a new international passenger terminal without any obligation to pay Piatco hundreds of millions of US dollars," Chato said.

Mendoza said the government is expecting to spend about P700 million to make the terminal operational. At the same time, he was open to proposals to lower concession fees to facilitate use of the terminal by airlines, both local and foreign.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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