COVID-19 keeps Sangley airport plan from taking off, says governor
MANILA, Philippines — A plan to transform a strategically located former military base near Metro Manila into an airport has yet to move forward due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) in China.
While the Cavite government has awarded the initial phase of the Sangley Point International Airport (SPIA) project to the consortium of the Lucio Tan-controlled MacroAsiaCorp. and China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CACC) last week, the final details had been delayed by the epidemic in mainland China.
“We have awarded it but we have not perfected the contract yet,” said Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla at a press briefing on Wednesday (Feb. 19).
“China is on lockdown so the subsidiary of CACC can’t have a board meeting because all their officers are on lockdown at home,” said Remulla of the Chinese state-owned company that had been picked for the project.
“Under their bylaws, they all have to be present in order to ratify the contract,” the governor said.
“Nothing in China is moving so we have a few weeks for them to get together,” he said.
COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to many countries and has infected thousands. A number of Chinese cities had been placed on lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.
Security concerns had been raised on the $10-billion SPIA project, which was being touted as an alternative to the country’s main, but already congested gateway, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Some active and retired military officials had expressed concern about a Chinese state company having a foothold in a strategic Philippine location.
The concerns had been fuelled, too, by the record of CCCC in island-building in contested areas in the West Philippine Sea.
A former US base until the early 1970s, Sangley Point currently houses Philippine air and naval bases. Its strategic location near Manila Bay had also made it a prime naval facility even during the Spanish colonial period.
A massive Philippine Online Gaming Operations (Pogo) complex, which mostly caters to Chinese employees, is also located near Sangley Point.
Chinese-backed investments and projects have seen increasing scrutiny in some parts of the world in recent years due to national security concerns.
International analysts have said that it is part of China’s playbook to invest in a country’s significant infrastructure or strategic location for potential dual-use projects that would suit its strategic military needs.
But Remulla said the provincial government was not ignoring the national security concerns and taking these seriously.
“There are fears of a takeover or patrimonial issues over the project. We have made sure that the contract is inoculated from all such incidents,” he said.
“This has no sovereign guarantee nor a MAGA provision — material adverse government action — claim on the contract,” the governor said of the local government-initiated project.