MANILA, March 16, 2005 (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Rainier Allan Ronda  -  The government will push through with the opening of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) on June 21 despite legal obstacles and structural defects in the facility, officials said yesterday.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Alfonso Cusi, in separate interviews, said the government is rushing preparations to get the modern terminal up and running by the deadline.

President Arroyo herself reiterated the scheduled opening date after touring NAIA-3 yesterday — her first visit since it was built.

"The President just gave us instructions that really we have to make sure that this is operational by June 21," Mendoza told reporters in an interview after emerging from a closed-door meeting with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Cusi, held after Mrs. Arroyo left the terminal.

"We are intent on making this airport operational for the Filipino people," Mendoza told reporters at the 23rd anniversary celebrations of MIAA at the NAIA-3.

Malacañang set the deadline for the opening of the airport for June 21 after vowing to make NAIA-3 operational six months after the Pasay City regional trial court allowed the government to take over the airport last year.

The President inspected the ongoing work preparations, including the facility’s major operating systems and utilities such as air conditioning, lighting and baggage systems.

"I was looking for the software (systems of the airport)," Mrs. Arroyo was overheard telling her officials during the inspection.

While some parts of the terminal were obviously completed, some areas were still shells — with only bare concrete, pipes and tubes visible. Officials said the unfinished areas were to be completed for the concessionaires.

Cusi said the government is undertaking "rectification work" in NAIA-3 to ensure the terminal meets international standards.

These include some 40 minor defects in the electrical, water and security systems of the airport.

Experts, he said, will also conduct a review of NAIA-3’s structural integrity.

"We believe we can complete all these things barring major problems," Cusi said.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo praised MIAA officials for making sure that the airport would run smoothly and safely when it opens in June.

Mendoza said the government was meeting with the different international airlines to arrange for their transfer to NAIA-3.

"What they’re waiting for is a lease agreement. We are meeting with them. Hopefully, we can strike a deal," he said.

The transportation secretary meanwhile expressed hope that flag carrier Philippine Airlines, which currently has exclusive use of NAIA 2 or the Centennial Terminal, will transfer to the new terminal.

As for the legal obstacles, Mendoza and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who was also at the anniversary celebrations, said the government would be able to easily surmount them since it already has possession of the airport.

Legal questions arose over whether the government can award contracts or enter into agreements, particularly with concessionaires and airlines, since it does not fully own NAIA-3.

Gonzalez said the government would defend the airlines that set up in the airport if anybody legally challenges the move.

For his part, Mendoza pointed out that such issues are already being resolved in the courts.

"The point here is that we’re in possession of the terminal," he said. "In the meantime, there is no restraint on what we should do here. So we’re going to do everything that is possible."

Mendoza revealed that the government was now deep in negotiations with the Takenaka Corp. — the general contractor contracted by the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) consortium to build NAIA-3 — to get their full cooperation on the government effort to open the terminal.

"The direction is towards signing a contract with them. We are preparing the agreement. Actually, it’s not a contract, it’s some sort of an agreement. They’re going over it. We already have a draft of the agreement. They have a copy, we have a copy," Mendoza said, but refused to disclose further details.

Takenaka has not been fully cooperating with the Philippine government ever since it expropriated, or took over, the terminal from Piatco last December, amid fears of possible legal problems it may encounter with Piatco.

Piatco is contesting the government takeover of the facility.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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