Philippines approves plan to build new Manila airport

MANILA: A fly that interrupted his speech was working under the orders of priests, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte joked Tuesday, as he launched a new verbal attack on the country's influential Catholic Church. The fly buzzed around Duterte as he spoke at a school in Manila, landing on his forehead and cheek and causing him to flap his arms in a futile bid to swat away the pesky insect.

"I've had a fight with priests for a long time," the 74-year-old strongman said without missing a beat. "This fly is taking orders from them. It has been following me for some time," he added, drawing laughter from the audience. Duterte later cursed the fly when he missed flicking it with a finger as it landed on a microphone. "Wait until I'm done with my speech. I will smash you with the manuscript," he said.

Earlier, Duterte said the Catholic church's dogma was "simply not acceptable to my God-given common sense". "I have a God. I just don't want to be saddled with religions," he said. The Philippine president has a history of criticizing the Catholic church, which counts some 80 percent of the nation's more than 100 million people as believers. Last year he angered church leaders by taking aim at the biblical version of man's creation, saying: "Who is this stupid God?"

Church leaders have been critical of his policies, including an anti-narcotics crackdown that has left thousands dead. They also oppose his calls for bringing back capital punishment. Tuesday's fly incident was not the first time an insect has ruined one of his public engagements. In May, a cockroach crawled up his shoulder and down the front of his shirt as he spoke at a campaign rally ahead of congressional elections. Duterte later joked that the bug belonged to the opposition.

New Manila airport
In another development, the Philippines yesterday approved a plan to build a new airport near Manila, in a bid to ease congestion with the capital's existing airport operating at full capacity. Philippine conglomerate San Miguel will build the airport in Bulakan town, north of Manila Bay, that will feature four parallel runways and serve 100-200 million passengers a year, a government statement said.

"This new international airport is important in helping ease the congestion of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (in Manila)," Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said in the statement. San Miguel, which was the only company to bid for the project, will have to break ground on the $14 billion project before the end of the year and open for business no later than 2025, the statement said.

The company has said it plans to run the airport, which would be the biggest infrastructure project under President Rodrigo Duterte's government, after obtaining a government concession. The existing Manila airport, which has two runways, handled nearly 260,000 flights and served 45 million passengers last year, according to its website. The announcement came after the close of trade in Manila. Shares in San Miguel rose 1.19 percent to end at 178.00 pesos ($3.50).- Agencies