DURING the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings in Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte noted the advantages of the hosting of such international events in the country in the many spectrums—regional peace and stability, economic growth, investment, among others. The Bicol region is also expectant to reap the numerous economic benefits from Asean.
I am a Bicolana and one of the local organizers of the planned Asean meetings in Legazpi City. Until now I am still saddened by the bad news that the conduct of Asean meeting in Albay was cancelled for the second time because of the threat posed by the communist New People’s Army (NPA). From the reports we obtained from the security sector of the Asean meetings, the NPAs planned to conduct attacks during the meetings with the use improvised explosive devices (IEDS), which could have put the lives of the delegates at risk.
The first meeting which was cancelled, which was supposed to be attended by about 200 participants, including foreign delegates, was for August 21-26, 2017; the other one was slated for November 21-22, 2017 to be participated in by about 90 delegates.
Nestled in the unashamedly boastful island of Cagraray, Bacacay, Albay, is the Misibis Bay Resort, the scheduled venue for these two Asean meetings. It is the favorite location for travel and relaxation of locals and foreigners alike.
In early pre-conference statements, it was said that the Asean meetings in Albay would bring bigger economic opportunities in terms of tourism and investment. These would pave the way for the tourism promotion not only of Albay but of the Bicol region. But what happened was the opposite. The cancellation brought hefty losses to Albay for the organizers and stakeholders who meticulously planned for the meetings—the venue, the hoteliers and restaurateurs (food and reservations), the medics/paramedics, security sector, the traffic sector, and the many others involved in the preparations. Plus other expenses for the IDs, the t-shirts and other financial/logistical requirements.
The conduct of the Asean meeting in the Bicol region was not only one to have been economically sabotaged by the NPAs. Based on the report from the security sector presented in one of the preparatory meetings for the Asean, last September 28,2017, five dump trucks, two mini trucks, one mini mixer and one grader truck owned by E.M. Cuerpo Inc., a contractor of the Bicol International Airport (BIA) were torched by the NPAs. These equipment were being used for the construction of the airport. Damage was placed at P25M million. For days, the construction of the airport was delayed because of the burning of the equipment.
This was not the first case of the NPA’s terroristic acts in the airport. In 2012, about 12 heavy equipment owned by the Sunwest Construction Company (contractor), also used for the construction of the BIA was also burned by NPAs. Most of these were trucks, payloaders and road rollers resulting in P76 million worth of damage. The rebels torched the equipment for the alleged non-payment of revolutionary taxes demanded from the contractors.
Located in a 400-hectare land in Bgy Alobo, Daraga, which is 10 kilometers from Legazpi City, the BIA is a P3.44-billion project of the national government. The airport is critical in achieving the 650,000 tourist target for Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate. It will bring improvement in the facilities and better utilization of available seating capacity to about 85 percent and increased cargo capacity of about 2,000 tons.
The construction of the airport started in 2010. However, delays were experienced due to the NPA’s intervention as attested to by the torching of the contractors’ equipment.
These cases, the cancellations of the Asean meetings and torching of equipment for the construction of the Bicol International Airport are only a few of those reported; there could be more unaccounted for.
President Duterte tagged the NPAs as terrorists which the latter opposed. Well, if they are not, then they should prove their worth. They need to be peace advocates and not spoilers. I am hopeful that there will be more international events in the Bicol region aside from Asean with the non-intervention of the NPAs.