21 September 2012

SBMA Board Studies Airport Conversion

An official of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said the other day that the proposed $5-billion conversion of the Subic Bay International Airport into a world-class theme park is still being studied by the SBMA Board of Directors.

SBMA Board Member Francis S. Garcia said they are still deliberating on the proposal because it would impact on the entire region, particularly programs aimed at boosting tourism in Central Luzon provinces.

Earlier, the proposed conversion of the SBMA airport into a theme park drew flak from former senator and SBMA founding chairman Richard Gordon who described the proposal as “a high degree of mental slaught” if the government allows it.

Officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT) said converting the airport into a theme park may derail plans of provinces around the freeport to integrate tourism promotion programs and take advantage of the existing world-class sea ports and airports in the former American military bases.

Last Friday, tourism officers of seven provinces in Central Luzon gathered at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center (SBECC) to map out plans in promoting the region as a major tourist destination by highlighting idyllic white sand beaches, heritage sites and colorful festivals.

Region 3 Tourism Director Ronaldo Tiotuico said the forum aims to gather tourism officers in 120 local government units (LGUs) in the region to discuss a unified strategy to promote Central Luzon as a major tourism hub.

He said the two freeport zones in Subic and Clark are major assets that will contribute to plans of promoting tourism in the seven provinces of the region-Bataan, Pampanga, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Tarlac and Bulacan.

Gordon told newsmen the administration will be committing “a high degree of mental slaught” if it allows the plan to convert the Subic Bay International Airport into a theme park and recreation site.

Gordon, who also once served as tourism secretary, said global tourist destinations such as New York and San Francisco have many airports yet Palawan, now being promoted by the government needs an additional airport.

He said the SBMA should not waste the US$40-million government funds used to rebuild and modernize the SBIA.

Gordon criticized plans of current SBMA Chairman Robert Garcia to push for a US$5-billion investment proposal that converts the freeport’s 200-hectare prime real estate into a theme park with condominiums, malls and recreational facilities similar to Hong Kong Disneyland and Singapore’s Sentosa park.

“It’s very rare to have a world class airport and a seaport in one facility in our country. The government should instead develop it to decongest airports in Metro Manila and bring in more tourists and investors,” said Gordon in a telephone interview over the weekend. (Mar Supnad, Manila Bulletin)