By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

The San Miguel Corporation’s (SMC) PHP736-billion (about US$14.72 billion) mega airport project in Bulacan aimed at alleviating the overburdened Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is facing an unexpected hurdle.

This, after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) warned last week that the site showed some signs of geohazards.

Philvolcs Director Dr. Renato Solidum said, “The multi-billion airport project is sitting on soft ground and the location is prone to frequent flooding.”

The chosen site just outside Metro Manila is to be named San Miguel Aerocity and where the the new Manila International Airport will be built.

While acknowledging Philvolcs official’s comments, SMC President and CEO Ramon Ang said in a statement released to local media last September 25 that the company will avail of engineering intervention to avoid the risks relative to constructing an airport in a coastal area.

The SMC chief said that the company “fully agreed” with Solidum that proper engineering interventions are needed but added that there are airports in many coastal areas throughout the Philippine archipelago.

SMC is tapping no less than three airport construction firms that were involved in developing Singapore’s Changi International Airport, considered as one of the world’s most modern and best airports. The three companies are Groupe ADP (Aeroports de Paris), Meinhardt Group, and Jacobs Engineering Group.

“We would like to assure all stakeholders, particularly those whose expressed concerns or opposition to the project, as well as those who offered inputs and suggestions, that we value your inputs and will seriously take them into consideration,” Ang said.

He added: “We have actually started implementing sustainable measures to address flooding in Bulacan that has existed for several decades.”

Ang assured the public that SMC has studied the project, its feasibility, and all possible risks, and would incorporate these into the final design of the project.

In a virtual Congressional hearing on the franchise, Solidum said the area is mainly underlain by sand and the water table is quite shallow.

According to Solidum, the environment where the airport will be build “requires special engineering interventions to make buildings and infrastructure resilient to hazards due to earthquake events or to weather-related activities like heavy rainfall.”

He also said that the area for the project “stands on tender ground susceptible to shaking and liquefaction and the flooding remains a big concern because the project site is a part of Bulacan known to easily submerge in water during heavy rains.”

On the plus side, the area is outside the Valley Fault System that runs through a large part of Luzon.

The Philvolcs official said that the project requires disaster risk reduction and business continuity protocols, as well as the construction of a proper drainage system.

The new Manila International Airport will be built in a 2,500 hectare property in Bulakan town, Bulacan province. Once completed, it will have four parallel runways, eight taxiways, and three passenger terminals.

Under the franchise granted by Congress, SMC will assume all the costs of the project and will operate the same for 50 years, after which it reverts to the national government.

The project is one of the biggest SMC projects under the leadership of Ang, who took over from the late ambassador Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, who passed away last year.

SMC also recently announced plans to construct a skyway along the banks of the Pasig River. The food and beverage conglomerate also revealed very recently its plan to build a 500-bed hospital. Ang had earlier built a smaller hospital for exclusive use by the priests, nuns, bishops, and archbishops, as well as lay leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.