By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

China’s ambassador to the Philippines says the multi-billion peso Sangley airport project in Cavite province is not really cancelled. It’s only the project feasibility study that was rejected by the provincial government of Cavite.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian told local media that did not necessarily mean the end of the US$10 billion project.

Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla announced the cancellation of the project last week due to what he said were deficiencies “in three or four items” in the documentation.

The airport project would have been a joint venture between the group of taipan Lucio Tan and a Chinese state-backed construction company.

Ambassador Huang said, according to the agreement of both sides, “the winning bidder – a joint venture of the Chinese company and its Philippine partners – would invest US$20 million on their own within a certain period of time and they would conduct the feasibility study of the construction of Sangley Point Airport for the Cavite provincial government.”

But due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added that “the feasibility study has not been launched yet and is cancelled at this stage.”

Tan’s MacroAsia Corporation and the China Communications Construction Co. won the auction to partner with the province of Cavite to upgrade the Sangley airport, formerly a US Navy facility until it was abandoned in the 1970s.

The airport was barely used in the past decades but its proximity to Metro Manila made it an ideal site for an alternate airport to the overcrowded Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The ambassador said the feasibility study was “a pure commercial project” and not a joint venture between the governments of China and the Philippines.

Huang also said the Sangley Airport project was not relevant to his country’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” As such, there was no reason to add a political element to the issue, he added.

While a private venture, the terms of the contract fall under a framework “set forth in the memorandum of understanding and cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative which was signed by the two countries in November 2018.”

Remulla agreed that the project itself was not cancelled and that other players could come in and submit their own proposals. He said the provincial government planned to re-bid and award the project before the October 2021 deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy.

The Belt and Road Initiative that the ambassador referred to is an ambitious US$1 trillion infrastructure program across several nations, all funded via soft loans from China.

It harkens back to the legendary “Silk Road” of ancient times, which was a land route connecting Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The route was used by traders to ferry their goods, notably silk which proved a lucrative business for some four centuries.

Critics of the modern day silk road, however, say that availing of the Chinese loans could be a trap, as countries unable to pay off their loans are forced to surrender key assets.

The delay in the upgrade and construction of an international airport in Cavite leaves only the international airport being built in Bulacan province by San Miguel Corporation as a viable alternative to ease the overcrowding at NAIA.

Considered the Philippines’ premiere airport, NAIA which is located in the cities of Pasay and Paranaque with no space to expand.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, flights in and out of the NAIA have fallen drastically. NAIA is currently able to handle passenger traffic until the Travel industry returns to normal, which is not expected to happen this year.