Aquino to close Tacloban Airport

TACLOBAN CITY – Mayor Alfred Romualdez and his cousins Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday questioned the wisdom behind President Benigno Aquino III’s plan to close the Romualdez airport and  build a new one in Palo, Leyte, whose mayor Remedios Petilla is his close ally.

In a news conference at Patio Victoria, Mayor Romualdez said the P12 billion that would be shelled out to bankroll a new airport would better be used in rebuilding the lives of the survivors of Yolanda tragedy.

The cousins took turns in asking the priority of President Aquino in view of the national government’s giving least attention to the Daniel Romualdez Airport, which has been closed to big aircraft while undergoing rehabilitation.

They said they hoped the President’s pronouncement would not be used as an “excuse” to stop the planned expansion of the tarmac for the arrival of Pope Francis in January.

Congressman Romualdez said he did not want to think that the plan for transferring the airport was to stop the Pope from visiting the devastated Tacloban brought about by super typhoon Yolanda, which marked its first anniversary Saturday.

President Aquino said the study on the new airport was shown to him after the Yolanda onslaught.

“In a two to four meters storm surge, lulubog kaagad ‘yung airport. Si airport naman ang pagdadalhan natin ng initial na, ‘di ba, si doctor, si relief, si communication. Lahat ng wala—‘yung bumagsak ‘pag nagkaroon ng event, airport ang pinakamabilis. Pero ‘yung airport mo guaranteed isa sa unang babahain at ‘pag binaha ‘yan lilinisin mo. So habang binaha, hindi puwedeng landingan. Habang nililinis, hindi rin puwedeng landingan. So kailangan na nating ilipat ito kasi [ang] alternative gagawa tayo ng seawall,” the President explained.

Congressman Romualdez disputed the President’s claim and said the Tacloban airport was already operational 24 hours after Yolanda flattened Eastern Visayas.

“All aircraft from other countries, big and small, used the Tacloban airport to bring in relief goods, medical equipment and personnel-volunteers. What delayed the use of the airport was the clearing of debris but it was cleared of debris in 24 hours,” said Rep. Romualdez, leader of the House Independent Minority bloc.

The mayor said even closing down the Tacloban airport was not “well thought out” since there was no consultation made before it was decided to be closed to air traffic.

“It’s really sad that that’s happening now because even one airline alone like Zest Air Asia, they don’t have small planes. They are losing about 24,000 passengers a month,” the mayor said.

“And for other airlines that used to fly in, they are losing close to 100,000 passengers a month,” he said.

The businessmen and tourists had to fly in and out of Tacloban via Cebu.

“I feel that was not thought out properly. I feel that they should have collected all materials and gathered all the equipment necessary before deciding to shut down the airport. It was poor planning,” the mayor said.

He said the government should have expected that the airport was deteriorating very fast and that the first couple weeks and months after Yolanda, all those passengers and cargoes coming in, it was really over-using the run way. That should’ve been predicted and planned,” he said.

“Basically, what I’m saying is that I’m not against the transfer of the airport, I’m saying that we don’t come to make rush decisions. We have to look at that very carefully because it will affect not only the economy in billions of pesos,” the mayor said.

“Especially now, and the problem now when you make that announcement, it is now an excuse not to rehabilitate the airport and now we are having a problem here, because we want the (local) economy to pickup and move on. We’re talking about resilience, what is really resilience? It is to bounce back better,” the mayor said.

In fact, the mayor said they fear that the promise to expand the tarmac for the Pope is not going to happen anymore.

“They’re not expanding it because they are using now as an excuse and they’re saying now we are not going to spend a single centavo anymore at the airport because we have plans of transferring the airport,”  he said.

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