Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has called on the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to prioritize the expansion and rehabilitation of existing airports to boost air travel and support the country’s tourism industry.
Gatchalian made the call during the recent Senate Finance sub-committee hearing on the proposed 2024 national budget of the DOTr.
“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.
During a recent visit to Bohol, Gatchalian noted that tourists in the area were able to travel from other countries straight to the recently completed Panglao airport without going through the airports in Manila.
“This is a very good phenomenon because it decongested Manila and tourists were able to fly straight to their destination,” said Gatchalian.
But he said the airports must adhere to international standards that include customs and border control terminals.
Gatchalian suggested that the DOTr expand the airports located in Camarines Norte, Southern Leyte, and North Cotabato provinces.
The senator said the expansion and rehabilitation of these airports would enhance tourism activities in these provinces, create more jobs, and boost local economy.
He also said that since budget disbursement for the acquisition of right-of-ways is usually underutilized, the DOTr should carve out a portion of the 2024 budget for right-of-ways under the next year’s national budget as appropriation for the expansion of airports.
At the same time, Gatchalian noted that the DOTr’s budget for the rail sector has increased substantially to P163-billion despite the perennial problem of underutilization.
“There is a huge increase in the budget of the DOTr for the rail sector and I support the call to expand the rail sector to different parts of the country including Mindanao,” the senator said.
“However, the rail sector is perennially underutilized in terms of disbursement,” he pointed out.
In response, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the DOTr 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.