Cotabato City

Sudden closure of Cotabato airport angers BARMM officials, traders

Rommel Rebollido

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Sudden closure of Cotabato airport angers BARMM officials, traders

ARRIVAL. Passengers disembark at the Cotabato airport in Awang, Maguindanao del Norte, before its runway was temporarily closed for repairs.

courtesy of Sam Ulangkaya

BARMM Transportation Minister Paisalin Tago complains, 'We were not even informed about it'

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) announced on Tuesday, June 27, that it would dispatch buses to the airports of General Santos and Davao cities to pick up hundreds of Hajj pilgrims who will be arriving this week from Saudi Arabia after the temporary closure of the runway at the Cotabato City airport for repairs.

Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have canceled all their flights at Awang Airport effective June 22.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) regarding the runway closure at Cotabato airport until August 18.

PAL and Cebu Pacific operate at least 31 weekly flights from the airport to Manila, Cebu, Zamboanga, and Tawi-Tawi.

The Cotabato airport in Maguindanao del Norte serves as the BARMM’s fastest link to cities in the Visayas and Metro Manila.

Hundreds of Islamic faithful returning from their Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca are expected to arrive this week in Cotabato, the regional center of BARMM, until the runway closure disrupted their plans.

The closure drew flak among local officials, travelers, and traders in the Bangsamoro region, who lamented the lack of advance notice regarding the sudden closure of Cotabato airport in Barangay Awang, Datu Odin town in Maguindanao del Norte.

Paisalin Tago, BARMM’s Transportation and Communications minister, expressed frustration over the abruptness of the closure, catching BARMM officials and locals off guard.

“We were not even informed about it,” Tago said.

He called for a meeting with officials from CAAP and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to discuss the planned rehabilitation of the airport’s runway. The repair works, including asphalt overlay, will be carried out by the DPWH regional office in the Soccsksargen region.

Tago urged CAAP and DPWH to expedite the runway rehabilitation project.

“Hopefully, the weather will be in our favor,” he said, citing the prevailing rains that have caused floods and evacuations in some areas of BARMM.

The business sector in BARMM complained that they were unable to prepare and expressed dismay over the unannounced closure, which will adversely impact businesses relying on the movement of goods and people. They also anticipate a significant reduction in tourism and trading activities in the region.

Ronald Torres, chairman of the Bangsamoro Business Council (BBC), welcomed the runway rehabilitation but voiced concerns about the abrupt closure’s consequences.

“They could have at least given us time to prepare,” he said.

Awang Airport serves as the gateway to Cotabato City and the BARMM provinces of Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte, as well as the provinces of Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in the Soccsksargen region.

Airline companies using the airport were also caught off guard and were unable to immediately inform passengers of flight cancellations.

Officials anticipate flight disruptions at other airports where Cotabato passengers will be diverted, such as Davao and General Santos. –

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