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Sacol Island: The Ideal Location for Zamboanga International Airport

By: Editorial  -  May 16, 2003


The future expansion of Zamboanga City’s International Airport (ZIA) and Cargo Terminal should be established in the city-owned big Island of Sacol.  Sacol Island is the most ideal and logical choice for the future expansion of the city’s international airport because of its location and isolation from the limited flatlands of the city proper.


click to view Zamboanga's Sacol Island MapBy locating and building the future airport in Sacol Island, the city will wisely and thankfully provide a blueprint for all future building expansion within the limited peninsula flatlands of Zamboanga City, allowing for desirable skyscrapers to be built and promoted without worries of whether the building’s height will be in the flight path of a nearby flatlands airport, as is currently suggested for Barrio Mercedes.  City officials and residents like to envision their city as becoming the next Makati, Singapore, or Hong Kong of the Philippines, with their signature tall skyscrapers hugging valuable lowland and coastal real estate.  Can this vision happen when the Barrio Mercedes airport location seriously prohibits that ideal picture?


The current airport expansion site plan being considered by the Mayor and the City Council will forever damage the expandability of Zamboanga’s ideal and logical growth expansion by allowing airport traffic and management to dictate where and how future investors and developers will build, and how high they can build.


This current airport expansion site is nothing but a roadwork to future economic disaster for Zamboanga’s increasingly limited flatland space!  On the other hand, Sacol Island provides for the best location any airport can have, with its enormous land size and isolated sea water location.


Incredibly, Sacol Island has its own water source that can service all the needs of the future ideal site for the city’s international airport, and all the accompanying services a world-class airport provides such as: airport hotels and convention centers, cargo storage warehouses, office space for airport services, ground transportation infrastructure, parking garages for short or long term parking, aircraft maintenance and storage facilities, restaurants and concessions facilities, duty-free shopping for local and international goods, and an airport industrial / business park, to name a few.


Additionally, there can be consideration made for a separate runway built and dedicated to military aircraft traffic and its command post, which is currently being provided by Edward Andrews AFB (former Moret Field).


The Sacol Island location can provide the military a great facility as it expands its role of safekeeping for the city’s population and its role as economic and tourism gateway to western Mindanao, nearby Basilan Island, and beyond.


The rugged mountains and sea access of Sacol Island can be used as valuable training grounds for the military or local law enforcement services, and their permanent presence there will give the city government a pro-active frontline defense against historical terrorist and illegal smuggling activities in and around the city-owned island.  The lives of the poor law-abiding island residents will be enhanced tremendously with the city's law enforcement intervention, and economic expansion from the international airport's construction and operation. 


The country’s President is even contemplating relocating the Philippine Marine Corps’ Headquarters into Zamboanga City, along with its over 10,000 troops and their attachments.  Sacol Island will provide the Philippine Marine Corps’ Headquarters a perfect home, and it could even be converted into their own "Hawaiian Island" paradise base with their own private white sand beach and hotel for family R&R vacations, similar to what the US military has in Fort DeRussy’s Armed Forces Recreation Center, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii.


Imagine the beautiful tropical island location of Sacol with its diversely rich marine life (instead of its current congested and polluted location in Manila), encased in the exotic splendor of Chavacano culture to help the city allure this prospective vision?  It cannot be a better choice for the Philippine Marines to make Sacol Island its future Headquarters and also its new Corps Training Center, with an excellent amphibious training capacity, in addition to its rugged terrain features.  It can help the Philippine government bring peace and business expansion into Zamboanga City, and expand its role as business center of south-western Philippines.


The location of a new international airport in Sacol Island will help propel Zamboanga City into a future of proper growth and expansion, opening up the extremely profitable air passenger commerce of that region that is currently underutilized but sufficiently accommodated with vessel traffic, which exceeded over 5 million passengers in 2002 - more than any city metropolis in the country!  The city’s new international airport in Sacol Island will firmly establish itself as the BIMP-EAGA gateway into the country.


A world-class bridge system will need to be constructed to link the island’s international airport facility with the city mainland at its shortest distance span near barrio Taluksangay, or wherever it may be deemed suitable according to the orientation and location of the runways and terminal, providing further growth of interconnected business services at the entrance to the airport’s bridge system. 


A world-class golf-course could also be built within the island's airport location facing the Moro Gulf and the island's white-sandy beaches and nearby islands vista, providing international appeal to tourists and business travelers.


The natural beauty of Zamboanga City lies within the extensive bodies of water surrounding it's peninsula-tip location, bounded to the west by the Sulu Sea, to the east by the Moro Gulf, and to the south by the Basilan Strait and the Celebes Sea, with its many beautiful islands nearby, and ideal fast water taxies/ferries that can be brought into service to help ferry airport passengers and tourists quickly to downtown hotels/businesses or tourists sites and vice-versa, avoiding the congested city streets while shamelessly exposing travelers to the beautiful scenery of Zamboanga’s environs from the water.  At its worst case scenario, the trip to and from downtown and many other busy locations along the Zamboanga Peninsula would be about 5 miles in distance at the most.  You cannot find many international airports that can proclaim this type of close proximity to their core city or region of service, and best of all, with an incredible tropical waterfront view that is unlike anything else in the world: imagine lush, verdant green mountains towering as a backdrop, then layered with tropical trees, palms, and exotic flowers that would be lining up its backyard, with splashes of a few white-sandy mainland beaches about a mile away that are peppered with a conglomeration of colorful endemic vintas plying their native owner's wares and services, with world-class hotels aching to spoil you with local Zamboangueño hospitality and excellent accommodations, then in the distance in front of you an incomparable azure blue Moro Gulf waterfront vista unfolds, festooned with its necklace of dozens of tropical islands resplendent with their own unabashed ribbon of white-sandy beaches ( oh, with one significant anomaly: a rare pink sandy beach island ) with names that foster visions of the city's over three and a half centuries of existence, and this while just waiting for your plane to arrive inside one of the world-class designed airport terminal of Zamboanga International Airport in Sacol Island.  What a glorious sight to behold.


Allow us, for comparison purpose only, to present to you what would be a similar project for the Sacol Island location of the future Zamboanga International Airport: Hong Kong's new Chep Lak Kok International Airport.  It is located about 25 miles from downtown Hong Kong on an artificial island filled in with dirt from the leveling a mountain nearby.  The city's previous Kai Tak airport became too congested and too dangerous from its island-city location close to property that was increasingly valuable, scarce, and populated, causing its relocation which in turn helped developers to build more city skyscrapers to accommodate the supply and demand phenomenon of Hong Kong real estate.  Chep Lak Kok's isolated man-made island location surrounded by water is similar to our proposal for locating the future Zamboanga International Airport in the big natural Sacol Island.  It is rare in any part of the world to find an ideal location such as Sacol Island to construct an international airport so close to a city and the region it will service, with all the built-in requirements to make it a success, along with all the many natural tropical splendors that just so happens to be naturally surrounding it.  How lucky can a city get?  We're not equating Zamboanga City to Hong Kong, but fast forward 10 or 20 years from now and you will be able to envision our proposition of location and amenities.


Another benefit to the Sacol Island airport location is the reduced health hazard it will provide its nearby mainland residents in the elimination of serious noise pollution caused by increased airline traffic.  On the other hand, the Barrio Mercedes site will still cause serious noise pollution to the already populated Barrios nearby, and will continue to do so in the future.  The city planners and officials need to respect their citizens health concerns and the Barrio Mercedes airport proposed site does not provide that.


Once the new Zamboanga International Airport and Cargo Terminal is completed in the big natural Sacol Island, many international flights will come into the Philippines through the Zamboanga Gateway.  This will be an incredible boon to area business and tourism.  Zamboanga's position as the busy ancient trading outpost in the South-Western Mindanao Island will be incredibly enhanced with modern capacity and infrastructure.  It's position as the area's main gateway for the Brunei-Darussalam/Indonesia/Malaysia/Philippines (BIMP) international business growth region will be favorably established and expanded on due to its ideal proximity to the partner countries in BIMP and its location in the #1 growth area in the Philippines.


Ideally, hotel and beach resorts could be carefully and environmentally provided along the beautiful white-sand beaches of Sacol Island, and a wild-life preserve established to protect the island’s delicate mangrove or marshland ecosystem.  Another local abundance that can be developed further is the Scuba Diving Tourism business that is practically non-existent in one of the world's most prolific underwater creatures and features location.  The close proximity of the new ZIA's location to majority of the known and still unknown dive sites is a boon for the city.  With this goal in mind, we propose that the Sacol Island site will provide the best transportation specific to scuba diving: Sea Planes!  A Sea Plane landing runway can be cut unto the existing natural harbor on the South-East center of the island or just set aside for sea plane traffic.  This Sea Plane Runway will be of course a long water channel, a "water runway" for the sea planes.  Along this Sea Plane "water runway" and surrounding it nearby, would be the new hotels that will cater to this type of clientele, and other tourists who will be staying in the many resorts that will be located in Sacol Island.  Sea Planes can easily drop off divers on or  near the diving site's waterway.  Zamboanga's proximity to the Sulu Sea, the Moro Gulf, the Basilan Straights, and the Sulu Archipelago waters straddling the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, makes it the best destination place for Scuba divers everywhere who are coming into the Philippines to enjoy its very rich marine life and coral reefs.  The new Zamboanga International Airport in Sacol Island will be an incredible draw for tourists who are specifically looking to do their dives first and will benefit greatly from the one-stop destination convenience it offers.  Upon arrival in the new ZIA in Sacol Island, tourists can stay in nearby white-sandy beach front hotels and resorts, then can hop on to their chartered sea planes just minutes away in the Zamboanga Sea Plane Terminal located on a beautiful secluded tropical harbor and experience a short distance ride to many of the world's best dive sites!  Arguably the best dive site in the world, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is only 200 nautical miles nearby on the Sulu Sea versus about 500 nautical miles from Manila, where most scuba diving tourists fly into to make their dive trip (or 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princessa in Palawan, which still requires about 350 nautical miles travel from Manila).  That's a lot of trip-miles savings for the weary divers!  They'd just as well come to Zamboanga and enjoy their dive vacation and have plenty of time and energy to spare for partying and enjoying in Zamboanga when they return.  Besides, they will want to explore the city's very own local dive sites.  The City-owned 28 beautiful islands offer a marvelous variety of experiences to the tourists from great snorkeling and diving with underwater vistas of exotic corals and marine life that lends to the city's title as the "Seafood Capital of the Philippines," to lazing or frolicking on colorful beaches that range in hue from pink, white, grey, sand, black and textured from powdered sandy to rocky, while being served a cornucopia of ancient Chavacano and Moro cultural feast that is unlike anywhere else in the world.  What an incredible location and position to be in!  Wow, Zamboanga!


It is unfortunate that the only way to dive in the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is by live-aboard boats, mostly from Batangas, at the end of June to February.  Batangas is about 400 nautical miles from Tubbataha Reef, double the distance from Zamboanga!  Puerto Princessa in Palawan is another popular embarkation point to the reef and is closer at 98 nautical miles.  However, we can't see why those dive tourists who can afford to pay for the luxury of time, can choose to fly to their dive spot by sea plane after the live-aboard boat has sailed ahead of them for the rendezvous!  Why not?  Time is precious, and time is money.  They could easily loose a day or so traveling in those live-aboard boats and become weary and tired from the rough seas.  They would rather spend their vacation time diving than traveling on live-aboard boats.  It's called options.  Some can afford it and others can't.  If you offer it and the price is right, people will use it.


If the bottom line is what's preferred by the tourists, this live-aboard travel option can be a natural income stream for the ancient Zamboangueños who are more adept at live-aboard living than any people in the Philippines, or the world for that matter - the Badjaos!  City officials can help introduce greatly needed employment development assistance for our fellow Zamboangueños, the Badjaos, the unsung heroes of the sea and one of the founding tribes of Zamboanga, in helping harness their expertise in live-aboard living and create a one-of-a-kind Zamboanga-ONLY experience for dive tourists to be chaperoned by real-life "Water World" people who are indigenous to the waters surrounding Zamboanga.  Development funds would have to be secured by City leaders to embark on this Zamboanga-specific project to help promote the inherent job skills of the Badjaos and provide them with the tools and training to be duly educated and employed.  The Badjao leaders will need to be partners in this empowerment project and their people promoted in this endeavor.  The live-aboard boats will need to reflect a uniquely Zamboanga Badjao-design outlook with modern amenities that cater to the expectations of the dive tourists - or some.  This Zamboanga-Badjao Live-Aboard Boats business concept could further develop a local industry of live-aboard boat building and can employ more Zamboangueños.


With careful consideration, planning, design, and management, the future Zamboanga International Airport in Sacol Island can be one of the most beautiful and effective airport facility in the Philippines, and possibly the world.  Without proper vision, the city government’s decision on where to place the future airport expansion can be a death sentence to the expandability and livability of Zamboanga City.

The Sacol Island location for the city’s airport expansion is an ongoing research project by our staff for the benefit of our city government and its people, and we will provide updates as needed.



P. Princesa airport rehab, expansion project starts

Saturday, August 9, 2003 11:6:0 p.m

The rehabilitation and expansion of the Puerto Princesa City airport has taken off with the groundbreaking late last month, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said.

A consortium of international and local investors, meanwhile, is offering to construct a modern airport in Zamboanga City at a cost of P8.7 billion (US$158 million) under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme.

DOTC Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said that the Puerto Princesa airport is one of the six airports lined up for rehabilitation and upgrading under the Third Airports Development Project funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Once completed, Mendoza said, the project would complement the “strong republic nautical highway” of the Arroyo administration, further strengthening and broadening the country’s air, sea and land transportation network.

DOTC assistant secretary Robert Castañares, representing Mendoza during the July 24 groundbreaking, opened the first phase of the airport-improvement plan, which involves the replacement and construction of military facilities that would be dislocated by the expansion project.

Castañares explained that since the expansion of the Puerto Princesa airport would encroach on existing military facilities, the affected military facilities would be replaced first before the actual construction starts.

The Third Airports Development Project involves the development of two trunk-line airports, those of Puerto Princesa and Cotabato, and the upgrading of four other smaller airports (Dipolog, Sanga-Sanga, Butuan and Pagadian).

Castañares presided over the ground-breaking ceremony, assisted by Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes, Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, Air Force vice commander Maj. Gen. Apolonio D. Ugale Jr. and Armed Forces wescom commander Brig. Gen. Edwin Galzote.

The consortium of investors from Germany, France, Japan, Guam and the Philippines presented the offer to build the modern Zamboanga Airport to the Air Transportation Office (ATO).

The proposal was also unveiled by Dr. Muss Ballaho, president of Asia Pol Development Corp. (APDC), and Louie Lucban, manager of Siemens Phils., to the investors and stockholders during a meeting in Zamboanga City last week, where APDC and Siemens are part of the consortium.

Under the proposal, the airport will be constructed in one of the barangays at the eastern coast of Zamboanga to make it also accessible through the Zamboanga-Pagadian Highway to the nearby provinces like Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte.

In a press statement, Ballaho said the construction of the new airport would take three (3) years, and that the company proposes to operate the airport for 15 years after its completion.

The proposed airport will be constructed on a 400-hectare area and will have a 3,440-meter-long runway. It would be bigger than the airports in Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Australia and Singapore.

With the new airport in operation, there are about 16 international airlines expected to fly between this city and its neighboring foreign countries, per Civil Aeronautic Board approval, Ballaho said.

He said the exact area for the proposed airport has already been identified but that the Mayor’s Office, ATO, Regional Development Council (RDC) and the corporation’s representative had agreed to keep it under wraps to prevent an unnecessary increase in land value in the area.

He said that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), ATO and RDC has expressed preference for his group’s offer, claiming that it meets all the necessary requirements, particularly funding.

NEDA and APDC has worked together to facilitate the necessary endorsement of the project proposal to the RDC, while the DOTC had appropriately acted upon it through the letters of Secretary Mendoza, Ballaho said. With Bong Garcia Jr.

Looks like Zamboanga City will get competition for peninsula air traffic.


Southeast Asia - Asia Times Online, September 24, 2003


Philippines to get new international airport

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines - Construction of the P6 billion (US$109 million) international airport in Misamis Oriental, Philippines, will start in March next year, said Vicente Emano, the city’s mayor.

Emano said biddings for prospective contractors of the multi-million dollar airport is scheduled for December and the winning bid will be announced in February.

The Eximbank of South Korea has released an initial amount US$17 million for the conduct of the final feasibility studies and payments of some unpaid lots within the airport site. The bank along with Samsung Electronics have agreed to finance the international airport, which is expected to be completed in 2008.

When completed, the international airport will serve as a gateway to various economic growth areas in North Mindanao, extending to Surigao provinces in the northeastern corridor and to Zamboanga Peninsula in the western coast.

(Asia Pulse/PNA)

What else is Sacol Island good for, besides the future ZIA?


4.1 Pilot integrated small-scale fisheries development projects in selected localities

(b) Sacol island, Zamboanga City

Sacol island is an extensive shallow sea area of mangrove and coral reefs located east of Zamboanga City centre:, Mindanao. The surrounding waters abound with fish, corals and seaweeds.

The island can be a very suitable site for pilot small-scale fisheries development project with seaweed culture as the major activity. It has extensive suitable grounds where the two main economic species of the carageenan seaweed can be cultured. These are Eucheuma striatum (cottoni) and E. spinosum. Improved techniques of Eucheuma culture initially demonstrated by Marine Colloids, Inc. (American firm) in

this island and now taken over as a demonstration station by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are readily available to private cultivators. The seaweed is widely used as food in this island and can also be brought to the Zamboanga City markets.

Culture techniques have been developed so that large quantities of seaweeds can be produced in the area. The fluctuating behaviour in prices as well as demand for the product has discouraged the local producers which consist of small-scale fishermen and their families. In order for seaweed small-scale venture to succeed in the area, handling, quality control, storage and marketing of the product should be properly managed; overproduction must be prevented and the marketing channels established for the benefit of producers and avoid the operation of unscrupulous middlemen.

Other areas in the small islands near Zamboanga City can also be identified as suitable sites for mussel and oyster culture. Cage or pen culture of high market value marine finfish is another possibility in the area, considering that Zamboanga City can serve as good local market. These later activities can serve as expansion of the initial seaweed pilot project at Sacol island.

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