Sunday, May 20, 2012

NPA rebels raid Albay airport construction site

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has ordered the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade and the Philippine National Police to secure the Southern Luzon International Airport (SLIA) in Daraga town after New People’s Army (NPA) rebels raided the construction site Friday night, wounding two Army enlisted personnel and torching 12 construction equipment. The Sunwest Construction Corp. based in Barangay Bonot here has been constructing the runway and preparing various infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges leading to the airport in Barangay Alobo, about 10 kilometers from the Daraga town proper, for the past two years. Salceda said the SLIA is now a showcase of public-private partnership and is slated to be operational two years from now. “This is the linchpin of our competitive strategy to achieve high growth through tourism despite the constraints of natural disasters and global warming,” Salceda said. Col. Arthur Ang, commanding officer of the 901st IB based in Barangay Villahermosa, Daraga town, said he immediately ordered Col. Audrey Pacia of the 21st Infantry Battalion to conduct pursuit operations against two groups of NPA rebels who raided the construction site. Ang said one group, comprising seven rebels, swooped down on the Alobo security detachment about five kilometers from the 901st IB headquarters, at around 9:30 p.m. Friday. The NPA group engaged the security personnel guarding the construction site, wounding Pfcs. Art Ryan Gapayao and Joemar Cornal, while the other group, wearing black fatigue uniforms, set on fire 12 construction equipment. The guerrillas immediately escaped after the attack. The two wounded Army personnel are now confined at the Estevez Memorial Hospital here. Senior Superintendent William Macavinta, Albay police director, told The STAR that the damage could range from P75 million to P76 million. Macavinta said investigators were still interviewing witnesses to come up with profiles of the NPA attackers. “We want to compare the sketches of the suspects with those in our rogue’s gallery so we will find out if they are criminals or not,” said Macavinta, adding that the Army and the police were exploring ways to secure the construction site. Salceda went to the site along with Macavinta, Ang, Pacia and Maj. Gen. Joshue Gaverza Jr., commanding general of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division. Salceda earlier said that Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas told him that the P370-million funding for the SLIA would be bid out in July. Salceda said the cost of completing the international airport rose to P4.5 billion, as the Department of Transportation and Communications wanted an airport design that Albayanos would be proud of. “The additional cost of P2 billion will be charged to the P10-billion unused public private partnership (PPP) fund,” said Salceda. “Basically, we will have an operational international airport in 2014,” he said. The SLIA is the biggest and most-awaited project in Albay as well as in neighboring provinces of Sorsogon, Masbate and Catanduanes since it will open direct international flights, making it convenient for foreign tourists. Salceda, who chairs the Regional Development Council, has created a tourism alliance among the provinces of Albay, Masbate and Sorsogon to integrate their policies on mining, illegal fishing, anti-smoking and tourism infrastructure. “We are following the model of Mexico wherein tourism dictates the tempo of infrastructure development to achieve fast growth,” Salceda said. – With Cet Dematera, Francis Elevado - By Celso Amo