Coast Guard facility at LORAN set for bidding: PAF contemplating air base on Panay island
posted 11-Jun-2018  ·  
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No less than the commanding general of the Philippine Air Force flew by helicopter to Panay island last week to consider the possibility of basing air assets there alongside the proposed training facility of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Lieutenant General Galileo Gerard Kintanar told the Tribune that the aerial inspection would partly determine whether it would be feasible for the Air Force to establish its presence in northern Catanduanes as part of the national government’s recent decision to protect precious marine resources in the 13-million hectare Philippine Rise east of Luzon and just a few hours north of Catanduanes.

He also agreed that an air force facility on the island would be able to respond to calls for assistance in times of calamity, particularly during inclement weather when local fishermen in the island and in the Bicol region are reported missing at sea.

During the inaugural ceremony of the Virac Airport terminal building rehabilitation project last June 1, 2018, Secretary Arthur Tugade of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) disclosed that the PAF chief came to Catanduanes for his own purpose – to fly to Bagamanoc and Panganiban to inspect the site of a new security base for the air force at south end of Panay within Panganiban town.

According to officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) who sought anonymity, technical personnel from Manila were sent to conduct a survey of the abandoned air strip constructed by Japanese investor Miharu Matsuzawa decades ago.

The 600-meter air strip with an average width of 20 meters can be barely seen on the ground and from their air as its entire length has been overgrown with grass.

It is claimed that the surveyors have determined that if the grass is scraped off the former runway, the air strip could be made operational for light planes.

“Medyo malabo,” CAAP Director General Jim Sydiongco was quoted as saying when asked if the air strip could be rehabilitated to accommodate PAF planes.

A primary factor working against the possibility of such a facility on Panay is the cost: CAAP engineers reportedly said that building a concrete runway on the island could cost as much as P100 million.

Cong. Cesar Sarmiento, for his part, stated that the absence of any budgetary allocation for the air force facility is not an issue.

“I will consider inclusion of the budget for an all-weather air strip in Panay island in the 2019 budget as long as PAF recommends it,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, the initial phase of the PCG’s proposed training facility to be built at the former US Coast Guard Long-Range Navigation (LORAN) facility at the northern end of Panay is now up for bidding.

This was disclosed by Congressman Cesar Sarmiento, who said that of the P500 million needed to complete the entire project, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated only P150 million for 2018, with the rest of the funding to come in the succeeding years.

The last time the station made the local news was several years ago when treasure hunters began diggings at the foot of a tower just along the beach and a stone’s throw away from the main building on btop of the hill. The activity was halted and the diggers left the area after being confronted by the land owners.

Built on the Pacific side of Panay Island in 1953, the station, consisting of seven buildings and two concrete water tanks, was operated by the US Coast Guard until March 1971. The next month it was turned over to the Philippine Coast Guard which ran the station until the end of 1977 when all LORAN stations in the country were closed. Its ownership reverted to its original owners, with one of the heir-owners, Marilyn Rodriguez-Presentacion whose husband Leo once served as town vice mayor, converting the site into a beach resort in 2010 by constructing several cottages and nipa huts along the beach.

In 2014, the former LORAN ruins was thrust into the national limelight after then Governor Araceli Wong proposed the establishment of a US naval base at the site, earning the ire of a progressive group who criticized the latter for trying to make the island province a primary target of a nuclear attack in case of a full-blown military aggression.

Wong made the proposal was made during the visit of then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., who was quoted as saying Bagamanoc would be an ideal site for a naval base.

Adding that the country should have a strong naval presence here for the identification of approaching vessels, the general said at the time that Wong’s offer could address global issues on defense and might be considered for discussion in line with the Philippine-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

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