By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat – 

The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) has identified an initial investment requirement of at least P10 billion for the development of Port Irene alone while it is still studying the upgrading of Cagayan North International Airport as this state-owned agency aims to attain full commercial operation of these priority infrastructure facilities within the year to maximize the economic contribution of the special ecozone.

Secretary Raul L. Lambino, administrator and CEO of CEZA told reporters at a press conference at the CEZA Investment Summit there have been interested parties for these two priority projects. CEZA is also currently reviewing the masterplans of these two facilities for expansion of capacity and upgrading.

In a speech at the summit, Lambino vowed to move fast to attain full commercial operation of these facilities within the year.

“Our edge really is we move fast, there is no bottleneck and no redtape,” Lambino said at the summit that includes potential investors from China, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

For Port Irene, Lambino said it would be needing P5 billion for the dredging of the shallow port to a depth of at least 15 meters to 18 meters from the current 8 to 12 meters to accommodate Panamax vessels.

There are also other facilities needed such as wharves and new piers to expand capacity to 600,000 TEUs.  There is also a need for another P5 billion if ever there is a need for the construction of another breakwater.

The port development will also consider the results of a survey being conducted by the US and Philippine Navy.

Lambino said they have already signed a memorandum of understanding with Korean firm Fairbridge, which committed to invest P2.5 billion for the dredging of the navigational canal and reclamation activities at Port Irene. The planned Korean investment would form part of the P5-billion dredging requirement, but excluding the construction of infrastructure such as the container yard and back cargo facilities. The past administration had spent P5.4 billion for the development of this port facility.

Port Irene is being operated by CEZA although it has concessioner Asia Pacific International  Terminal, but which failed to deliver for its 25-year concession agreement signed in 2003.

For the Cagayan North International Airport, Lambino said the zone has already poured in P1.5 billion for its construction. The plan now is to build additional taxiway and another strip of runway to make it world class. No estimated investment for the airport has been quoted yet pending review.

At present, there are no direct flights to this airport but only chartered flights carrying tourists from Macau and Hong Kong. With the absence of an ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) certification, flights have to divert to ICAO certified airports Clark, Tuguegaro and Laoag before proceeding to Lallo international airport.

Lambino said they expect to get the ICAO certification in three months to start full commercial flights at Lallo.

CEZA and its joint venture with Cagayan Land Corp. have formed the Cagayan Premium Development Ventures. Lambino said they have received several proponents for the airport like groups from Xiamen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, who wanted to develop the airport.

Tony Fernandes of AirAsia has already met them twice and its local representative Maan Hontiveros to make Lallo as one of their hubs, he said.

Cebu Pacific has also completed an investigation on the viability of the airport for commercial operation. CEZA is also talking to national flag carrier Philippine Airlines, and two other small carriers Sea Air, and Skyjet.

While the airport can accommodate big planes like 737s and Airbus 320s, the terminal is still small because it was only intended as a regional airport with capacity of 1,500 passengers. The plan is to build a 4-storey terminal complete with escalators and x-rays, but which could be realized in three years yet depending if there are serious investors.

Lambino said there has been increased economic activities at CEZA. This year, the authority hopes to raise P200 million from port calls and auction of heavy equipment. Port calls in the first four months this year at Port Irene already hit 12, doubling the number in the past two years.

For this year, the company is also investing P300 million on all necessary infrastructures in the zone including the P130 million port in San Vicente, a P100 million hospital, P40 million administration building and an investment in solid waste management facility. It plans to spend another P300 million for commercial center, a hotel and commercial outlet for duty-free shops.