Biz groups, lawmaker push NAIA privatization


BUSINESS leaders and a lawmaker are endorsing a proposal—refloated after the January 1 aviation fiasco that paralyzed the premier airport—to privatize operations of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), but a large labor coalition warned it would throw out of jobs thousands of state workers, and hike costs of travelers.

Privatizing NAIA’s operations “anticipates” the potential growth of the Philippine tourism sector, which is a major driver of the country’s economy, according to Go Negosyo founder Jose Maria A. Concepcion III.

The head of a major business group in the country had a similar view.

“I don’t have a problem with the privatization of NAIA.  If the private sector can do it better than the government, then let’s allow the private sector to manage it,” said Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc (FFCCCII) president Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong in an interview on the sidelines of the Pandesal forum in Quezon City on Saturday.

In a statement on Sunday, Go Negosyo said Concepcion aired his view following  confirmation that the government is moving to privatize the operations of the country’s main international airport.

“I am glad that [Department of Transportation] Sec. [Jaime] Bautista supports the privatization of NAIA,” said Concepcion.

The Go Negosyo founder underscored the airport’s crucial role in creating the first impression of the Philippines. Concepcion added that since tourism has “one of the biggest potentials” for growing the country’s economy, any improvement made on NAIA will “redound to so many benefits.”

Meanwhile, Concepcion said efforts must now shift to helping the tourism sector as it also includes micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) which bore the brunt of pandemic lockdowns.

The “biggest assist” for the tourism sector can come from ensuring the ease of travel for tourists passing through NAIA.

“The airport experience must be improved, not just for the tourists but also for the [overseas Filipino workers] OFWs who have only a few days to spend with their families here,” Concepcion said.

In the first week of 2023, following the glitch that halted all air travel within Philippine airspace, Concepcion suggested reviving a 2018 proposal forming a consortium to modernize NAIA.

The Go Negosyo founder said the “inefficiencies” in the country’s main international airport translate to big losses in business and are felt throughout the country.

Meanwhile, FFCCCII’s Lim commended San Miguel Corp. president Ramon S. Ang for his initiative to build a world-class airport. “Just take a look at the New Manila International Airport (also known as the Bulacan International Airport) being undertaken by Mr. Ramon Ang and San Miguel Corp. When completed, the new airport will vastly improve air travel in the country. I think the airport would be bigger than Beijing’s airport as it will have four parallel runways. This will definitely be a game changer in our tourism industry,” Lim added.

Earlier, the DOTr disclosed it is currently conducting talks with the Asian Development Bank and the Public-Private Partnership Center in drawing up the terms of reference for interested parties.

Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista told senators in an inquiry that the privatization of NAIA will be pursued this year as part of improving airport services. The government is open to a solicited or unsolicited proposal, he said, but given a choice, the DoTr wants a solicited proposal.

Poe vows rigid scrutiny

The head of the Senate’s Public Services committee, Sen. Grace Poe, on Sunday affirmed support for the privatization, and vowed that lawmakers will thoroughly examine all proposals for such.

In a radio interview, Poe said, speaking mostly in Filipino, “I’ve long been pushing to privatize the management and operations of NAIA. The private sector could include the Gokongwei, Aboitiz, Ayala, MVP Manny Pangilinan group the mega consortiums” that she noted have the financial heft and expertise for such.

While acknowledging concerns that a privatized enterprise means higher fees for users, Poe said such will not likely happen because government will still have a say in the pricing. “But what is good there is that they have the funds to improve the airport.

And they have the professionals who can run it better.” Poe noted that “these conglomerates have investors of shareholders,” a deterrent against failure because, “the value of their companies rests on their success in running the airport.”

She said “a good example for me is the Mactan-Cebu airport. That is private, a Megawide-GMR partnership. If you see the design of the Mactan-Cebu airport, NAIA is an embarrassment compared to it.”

Poe vowed to personally vet proposals for a takeover by private firms of the premier airport.

It is important, she said, that solicited biddings or unsolicited proposals “are transparent and their provisions are in order.”

Labor objects

However, a coalition of the country’s biggest labor groups on Sunday rejected the proposed privatization of NAIA.

In a press statement, Nagkaisa expressed concern on how privatization could lead to labor displacement, particularly of those who have non-regular status.

“In every privatization program, it is labor that is first to go or outsourced to third party service providers,” the coalition said

Nagkaisa member and Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) Secretary General Josua Mata added that a private sector-managed NAIA could mean additional cost to passengers.

“I worry that if NAIA is privatized, passengers would once again be burdened with higher terminal fees with not much change in quality of service,” Mata told BusinessMirror in an SMS.

Labor representation

Nagkaisa warned that privatizing the country’s main airport is “not a panacea or an all-out solution” to the issues, which is plaguing the facility.

Instead of allowing the private sector to take over NAIA, Nagkaisa chair and Federation of Free Workers (FFW) president Sonny Matula pushed for reforms in the management of the facility with the inclusion of workers representation.

“This would allow employees to have a direct say in the management and operations of the airport, and can lead to improved employee morale, productivity, and overall airport performance,” Matula said.

Matula said they are calling on President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to stop the privatization of NAIA.

“We are pursuing a dialogue with the president himself to know his plan and to inform him of our stand on privatization,” Matula said.

With Rizal Raoul Reyes