Friday, June 11, 2010

SMC to Caticlan critics : 'Baloney'

If you’re planning on flying to the now world-famous Boracay beach resort from the domestic airport in Metro Manila, you have two choices.
One is to take a regular commercial domestic flight to Kalibo, Aklan, from where you must travel overland by bus or car for about an hour and a half to Caticlan. At the seaport, you hop on to a motorized banca (with outriggers) that would ferry you, finally, to that tiny island-paradise in less than 10 minutes.
The other one, of course, is the faster way—if you are the daring, adventurous sort, that is. In this route, you skip the overland travel part. From Manila, you fly directly to Caticlan, where the airstrip is only a few minutes away (by tuk-tuk, as they call tricycles in Thailand) from the same port where all Boracay-bound revelers must take the 10-minute ferry ride.
The problem with the Caticlan “airport” (which is really more like a glorified airstrip), however, is that it is too small and undeveloped. Its runway is so abbreviated it runs right smack into what is called Caticlan Hill. Caticlan can only accommodate light, propeller-driven planes, not the much bigger regular turbo-props and jets being used by Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific for most of their domestic flights. The biggest that can safely land in and take off from Caticlan right now are the 12 to 14-seater kinds.
I remember the last time I took the direct-to-Caticlan route to Boracay over 10 years ago. Going in, all the passengers trembled as our 12-seater plane braked to avoid overshooting the runway. On taking off, we all thought it could not possibly lift off in time and steeply enough to avoid smashing into Caticlan Hill. When we landed in Manila, I wanted to kiss the ground, eternally grateful for having made it safe and sound. It’s all in a day’s work for pilots assigned to this route, I was told. Nevertheless, I’ve been taking the Kalibo route in my subsequent trips to Boracay—longer but infinitely safer, as far as I’m concerned.
But now the good news is that the San Miguel Corp. (SMC) would undertake an ambitious project to convert Caticlan into an international airport. This can only make Boracay’s world-class beaches infinitely more accessible to both local and foreign tourists. The expansion, in fact, is intended to maximize this tourism gem’s dollar-earning potential.
Critics have strongly objected to the project on the ground that it would involve the leveling of Caticlan Hill. Once you do that, they say, black sands from the Aklan mainland would be blown over to Boracay by wind channels and eventually “contaminate” or discolor Boracay’s white-sand beaches.
Spokesmen for SMC, however, say such a claim is not only “wild” but also “fictional, at best.” It’s nothing but baloney, they seem to be saying. True, they say, to extend the abbreviated runway and make it safer for commercial airlines use, “our engineers may have to cut through sections of Caticlan Hill, but absolutely not at the expense of the environment.”
SMC’s assurance: “There is an engineering solution. We’ll rely on very detailed aerodynamics studies. The bottom line is the project would absolutely not cause the hill’s destruction.” On the contrary, they add, “SMC would do everything possible to enhance Boracay’s value and attractiveness.”
SMC, they assure us, would never be involved in a project that would ultimately devalue or debase the attractiveness of Boracay as a world-class tourist playground or recreational haven. “The solution includes ways to avoid any potential turbulence caused by wind shears, or the difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. This would allow aircraft to land and take off safely from an extended runway without having to deal with dangerous crosswinds.”
Put in the plainest of terms, bigger aircraft will be able to land and take off safely. More people will be able to enjoy Boracay. But the hill will remain essentially intact.
SMC will have a 51-percent stake in the Caticlan International Airport project. It also has a beach property right on Boracay itself near the Shangri-La resort which the conglomerate intends to develop in the future.
The critics’ microclimatic change theory would look and smell like hogwash once put side by side with the exhaustive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) commissioned by the province of Aklan in 2004. Conducted over an 18-month period by a battery of experts in geology, hydrology, meteorology, air and noise problems, social development and various other relevant fields, the study says the SMC project would have no negative impact whatsoever on Boracay.
This same EIA became the basis for the issuance of SMC’s environment compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The ECC was issued in 2006. The DENR lately has had to reaffirm the validity of SMC’s clearance because of the controversy that came up over the impending project. What is very clear is that the EIA is more scientifically sound than any cockamamie theory of spurious origin.
As it turned out, there’s a big business group that stands to lose big time as a consequence of SMC’s ambitious airport project. This business group, according to sources, is actually trying to whip up a public outcry against the project on the ground that it would only mar Boracay’s natural beauty; or that it would upset the overall ecology of the entire area.
The proposed airport project, you see, would render redundant, if not entirely useless, another proposed airport project on nearby Carabao island. This proposed airport project was intended to straddle Boracay, Carabao and Romblon.
This was to be a P5-billion investment of the Euro-Asia Group Holding, a South Korean conglomerate headed by Byoung-Youn Park. The huge project was touted as the first of its kind in the Asean region. The blueprint included an all-weather international airport, a marina, a 27-hole championship golf course, a 1,500-room hotel and resort, retirement villages and recreational facilities—the works.
But the proposed project suffered a fundamental defect. The Korean company realized that Carabao island faces an open sea. This would mean great risks for tourists who would have to contend with big ocean waves as they go in and out of the island by boat for sight-seeing trips. Mainly because of this fundamental defect, the Korean company who had put in a sizable chunk of money to get it started, had been trying in vain to get out of the project by selling out to SMC.
But Ramon Ang, president and chief operating officer of SMC, did not bite, of course. Ang already had his eye on a smaller-scale project, which was the building of the future Caticlan International Airport.
Besides, the SMC honcho was aware that the Carabao island project was being opposed by the provincial government of Aklan on the ground that it would only fracture the lucrative tourism industry in the area. Aklan folk want the project stopped, saying that the proposed airport would violate aviation standards that prescribe a 25-kilometer radius between international airports. The restriction is intended to minimize the probability of aerial collisions, with Carabao island a mere five kilometers away from the Caticlan airport.
During SMC’s last stockholders’ meeting very recently, Ang assured the stockholders that the rehabilitation work on Boracay island would be “clean and green.” Geologist Guillermo Balce, a former energy undersecretary who now works as SMC consultant, said the upgrading of the Caticlan runway would absolutely not require the leveling of the 48-meter-high Caticlan Hill.
Any other objections?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is this article sponsored and paid for by SMC? Just because Balce said so, it doesn't make it OK to start tearing down the hill. He is not really an environmentalist advocate. If you remember the oil exploration on Tenon Strait which was so bad for the local fisherman, Balce was advocating the oil exploration because money is king. Boracay is a drop in a bucket in SMC's investment. Do you think SMC will help the locals if Boracay is ruined? In addition, any environmental studies made during Arroyo's adminatration cannot be trusted. This is proven in Mindanao where she approved mining in the mountains which poisoned the water and soil just to make money from kickbacks.