SMC assures safety of Bulacan airport project amid Phivolcs risk warnings

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A digital visualization of the New Manila International Airport in Bulakan, Bulacan

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 23) — San Miguel Corporation assured lawmakers that the New Manila International Airport in Bulakan, Bulacan will be secure from threats of flooding and soft ground in light of warnings raised by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Wednesday.

Phivolcs director and Undersecretary Renato Solidum raised concerns the airport location faces a number of geohazards, but SMC said these were factored in as it finalizes the detailed engineering design of the ₱736-billion project.

"The area is mainly underlain by sand and the water table is very shallow," Solidum said during the Senate hearing on the area's franchise. "This river environment requires special engineering interventions to make buildings and infrastructure resilient to hazards due to earthquake events or to weather-related activities such as heavy rainfall."

Melissa Encanto-Tagarda, head of SMC's government relations unit, said the conglomerate tapped foreign partners deemed experts in airport construction to make sure issues are properly addressed.

These partners are Groupe ADPi, Meinhardt Group and Jacobs — the same companies behind Changi Airport in Singapore, the Atlanta Airport in the United States, and Charles de Gaulle Airport in France.

Encanto-Tagarda expressed confidence that San Miguel would not invest a huge amount if it did not study the proposal and confirm that "this project is viable."

Although located far from the Valley Fault System that bisects Luzon, the area stands on tender ground prone to shaking and liquefaction, or when loose soil near water lose strength, the Phivolcs head pointed out when senators asked for his impact assessment of the project. Flooding remains a huge concern as this part of Bulakan town is known to be easily submerged in water when rains hit.

Nevertheless, Solidum said the project can continue as long there are disaster risk reduction and business continuity protocols in place, alongside the construction of proper drainage systems.

The group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, or AGHAM, said separately that the entire 2,500-hectare Airport City could be submerged in water if a storm surge hits, and suggested its contractor San Miguel Corporation to consider a different location.

Senators said they expect SMC to address these concerns as it builds the sprawling project.

The conglomerate run by businessman Ramon Ang will build the planned aerocity from scratch, which is eyed to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport once operational in a few years.

The planned gateway will have four runways for domestic and international flights, which should cater to up to 200 million passengers yearly.

Concerns were also raised regarding potential social and environmental damage, especially the mangrove and fishing areas which will now be converted into industrial land. Some 342 families will also be displaced from two barangays, but the company said relocation sites and jobs will be provided. 

SMC will own and operate the new airport for 50 years and will remit revenues to the government once profits are generated. The facility will eventually be turned over to the national government.

The franchise for the SMC Aerocity, which include tax breaks during the construction period, has already been approved by the House of Representatives and is awaiting Senate clearance.