Senator Win Gatchalian urged the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to prioritize the expansion and rehabilitation of existing airports to enhance air travel and support the tourism industry.
“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 line agency. He cited an observation that during a recent visit to Bohol, 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,” said Gatchalian, noting that the airports must adhere to international standards that include customs and border control terminals.
He said airports that should be expanded include those located in Camarines Norte, Southern Leyte, and North Cotabato provinces. According to him, expansion and rehabilitation of such airports would enhance tourism activities in these provinces, create more jobs, and underpin the local economy.
Gatchalian proposed that since the disbursement of the budget for the acquisition of right-of-ways is usually underutilized, the DOTr could carve out a portion of the 2024 budget for right-of-ways under the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for allocation for the expansion of 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. Likewise, a budget of P12.4 billion under the 2023 GAA appropriated for right-of-ways has a very low disbursement rate to date.
During the same hearing, Gatchalian also noted that the DOTr’s budget for the rail sector has increased substantially to P163 billion despite the perennial problem of underutilization.
“Napakalaki ng increase ng 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 underutilized in terms of disbursement,” he said.
In his response, DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista said that the department is 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 DOTr officials.