Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to prioritize the expansion and rehabilitation of existing airports in the country to enhance air travel and support the local tourism industry.
Saying the disbursement of the budget for the acquisition of right-of-ways was usually underutilized, Gatchalian suggested that the DOTr could realign a portion of its 2024 budget for right-of-ways under the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for the expansion of the airports.
Under the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), for instance, utilization of the P1.65 billion budget for right-of-ways is at a very low level, Gatchalian noted.
Likewise, a budget of P12.4 billion under the 2023 GAA appropriated for right-of-ways has a very low disbursement rate to date, he added.
“We need to expand our existing airports, build new terminals, and fly tourists straight to their destinations,” Gatchalian told DOTr officials during a Senate hearing on the proposed budget of the agency.
During a recent visit to Bohol, Gatchalian observed that tourists were able to travel from other countries straight to the recently completed Panglao airport without going through the Manila international airport. “This is a very good phenomenon because it decongested Manila and tourists were able to fly straight to their destination,” Gatchalian said.
He noted that the airports must adhere to international standards that include customs and border control terminals.
He also said airports that should be expanded included those located in Camarines Norte, Southern Leyte, and North Cotabato provinces.
According to him, the expansion and rehabilitation of such airports would enhance tourism activities in these provinces, create more jobs, and underpin the local economy.
During the hearing, Gatchalian also said the DOTr’s budget for the rail sector has increased substantially to P163 billion despite the perennial problem of under-utilization.
“There’s a huge increase for the rail sector in the budget of DOTr and I support the call to expand the rail sector to different parts of the country including Mindanao. However, the rail sector is perennially under-utilized in terms of disbursement,” he said.
DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista said the department was already coordinating closely with its contractors to hasten the disbursement of payments.
“It’s important to emphasize that we need to improve the absorptive capacity of the department and we are happy to hear that you are working closely with your contractors,” Gatchalian told the DOTr officials.