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NAIA: The continuing insult to Ninoy Aquino

Filipinos celebrate their defeats, commemorate executions and assassinations with holidays and fiestas, and build shrines and monuments to their heroes only to turn them into dumps and symbols of the Filipino’s inability to sustain and maintain what should be a place of reverence and honor.

Luneta has turned from a place of execution to a place of worship or protests. EDSA from the beginnings of a true highway (Hi-way 54) to a metropolitan interchange, to a place of protest to a highway where commuters and drivers are now constantly protesting the constant blocking and re-blocking of what is suppose to be a highway. The Libingan Ng Mga Bayani has become another “tahanan ng mga walang bahay” or a squatter’s colony to the point that the AFP now has to fence the place and post bills telling the public that the area is a National Shrine. NAIA, from being the home of Asia’s first airline, to becoming the place of assassination/execution of Ninoy Aquino, featuring the outline of the slain hero drawn out like a crime scene that never changed after 30 years.

But unlike Rizal’s Luneta and Epifanio De los Santos’ EDSA which are being continuously repaired and developed, the international tribute to Ninoy Aquino, namely the NAIA or Ninoy Aquino International Airport, has turned into a daily insult and dishonor to the memory of Ninoy Aquino not to mention the flying public and all taxpayers. From a crime scene for a couple of assassinations and one hanging, the NAIA has turned into a national monument to criminal neglect. Yes it is criminal to name such a decrepit “international airport” after a national hero, it is criminal to charge terminal fees for terminals that don’t have regularly functioning air conditioning systems, don’t have regularly functioning X-ray machines, claims to be international but neither has the size, facilities nor technology to operate and sustain at truly international standards.

I understand and appreciate the dilemma of President Noynoy Aquino who, like his mother Cory, finds his hands tied because of his being President and because he is an “Aquino.” Because she was Ninoy’s wife and the President then, Cory Aquino realized the curse of public office and public opinion that prevented her from moving heaven and earth to find the mastermind behind Ninoy Aquino’s assassination/execution. Today the same curse rears its ugly head preventing the President from taking a direct hand at fixing and turning the NAIA into a proper tribute to his father as well as a standard of excellence for the flying public.

Perhaps the only answer to the problem is to let someone else do it. We’ve all heard the phrase: “Put your money where your mouth is.” Well, from what I’ve heard there are more than enough people willing to do that, in particular Philippine Airlines and its President Ramon Ang who, after several “ignores from the ignorant” has renewed his offer to build an airport but this time with a different approach. During a birthday lunch, Ramon Ang made a few points clear: To begin with, PAL is no longer pushing for a new or improved NAIA because they have something to gain, they are doing it because they have a lot to lose from regional and international competitions in terms of facilities and passenger handling at NAIA especially after the ASEAN integration takes effect in 2015. The fear is if airport facilities are not improved fast and furious, the market may start to drum up so much negative publicity that even the DOT’s now static tourism campaign won’t convince people to fly into the World’s Worst Airport: NINOY AQUINO International Airport. Operationally, the local airlines are “burning money” on fuel while waiting to take off or land at NAIA which all adds up to delays and customer dissatisfaction.

Instead of a privately built and operated international airport in some still undisclosed location, Ramon Ang has come up with the suggestion to expand the NAIA by adding an additional runway at the present location. The plan would entail buying/paying/relocating mostly “informal settlers” from an estimated area of 50 plus hectares to a maximum of 126 hectares within government property (Manila International Airport Authority) which makes more economic sense than buying new land at current prices which could be subject to speculative pricing and project hijacking. The proposal is clearly intended to calm the fears of DOTC officials who may have felt slighted and threatened with the original proposal for a privately built and operated airport.

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While the project proposal may be business related, the silver lining within is that the project study claims it can be completed within 18 months, time enough to ensure that the airport named to commemorate Ninoy Aquino would be much better in looks, in form and in operations when P-Noy steps down. In other words, P-Noy would at least have one true major legacy infrastructure project, and one that gives honor to his father’s name.

At this point, industry players like Ramon Ang who fully understands the business of airlines and airports can only propose and suggest to the government what they believe would be beneficial to their industry as well as for their business interests, but it can’t be said that their interests and benefits are one way. Our country and its economy are directly dependent on the standards and quality of our airlines and airports. Instead of blocking those suggestions in the media or being pig headed in their attitude, the challenge to those in authority such as Secretary Jun Abaya is if you disagree with “unsolicited proposals” then come up with a real plan, come up with a better plan, come up with a doable plan. If you can’t, try helping those who have one, be an enabler.


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