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Airlines too victimized by extortion at NAIA

Angel Honrado supposedly helped Noynoy Aquino escape death from ambushing putschists against President-mom Cory in 1989. Is that why P-Noy now lets Honrado escape culpability for misdeeds at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that he heads?

Global airlines want to know, as Honrado allegedly “harasses” their personnel and operations. The NAIA general manager is deterring the employees from day-to-day work – to make the airlines pay imagined dues to the airport.

The 39-member Airline Operators Council (AOC) has reported the extortion to P-Noy and Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya – to no avail. The group suspects the higher-ups of abetting Honrado in the racket.

Retired Air Force general Honrado is a cousin of P-Noy, and ex-superior of Abaya as Cory’s military aide-de-camp. Other land-sea-air transport agencies allegedly are into “last two minutes” illicit fundraising.

Weeks ago Honrado rescinded the individual season access passes into NAIA of personnel of nine airlines. In lieu of the six-month validity, they were told to line up for day-long passes.

The season access passes let the employees go to their workplaces: check-in counters, departure gates, loading and cargo areas, and offices. The day-long passes are restricted to selected areas, issued to fetchers and aides of arriving or departing VIPs. Lining up daily for the passes disrupts airline operations, wears down the employees, and restricts their normal duties.

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Notice was sent to the nine airlines that restoration of the season passes depended on their formal written renewal of office, counter, and gate leases. Honrado made it look that simple.

The nine airlines could not just renew leases to airport facilities and services, though. They were told to settle first certain back dues to the NAIA.

The back dues per airline amounted to tens of millions of pesos. Some of these were said to date back to the 1970s. But there were no breakdowns or supporting documents. This was where the AOC stepped in, says its spokesman and former chairman Leoncio Nakpil.

“They wanted our nine members to pay up, or else suffer no office and other facilities,” Nakpil recalls. “So we helped them ask NAIA for papers to back up the collections. We sought an audience with Honrado.”

Nakpil adds that fire had leveled the NAIA in the ‘70s, destroying most records: “It’s only fair that our members and NAIA are able to reconcile their accounting figures.”

During that meeting, airline representatives and AOC officers asked for details of the supposed unpaid debts – but were given none. Heated arguments ensued, at the end of which Honrado allegedly demanded that the airlines instead prove full payment. Reportedly the attendees were called “bastos (impertinent)” for the “temerity to ask for justifications” of the collections.

Honrado allegedly turned up the heat. Aside from canceling the employees’ season access passes, the summer schedules also were withheld from the airlines. The schedule lists the check-in counters, boarding gates, facility areas, and services assigned to the airlines from March to August, Nakpil explains. Without it, an airline would be at a loss on where to direct its passengers.

The AOC called in their lawyers. Ama and Paredes Law Firm promptly reminded Honrado this month of the public interest involved in the imbroglio. The employees restricted to daily passes are not menial clerks but perform security and safety responsibilities for passengers.

It was for that reason that Nakpil also requests anonymity of the nine “victimized” airlines. The local reps are asking for permission from head offices to go public with their complaints. They could suffer sales drops if they do, Nakpil says. Honrado supposedly knows this vulnerability so is exploiting it to the hilt. The nine fly to the Middle East, trans-Pacific, and Southeast Asia.

The lawyers also reminded Honrado that the airlines were up to date in their monthly rentals to NAIA. The collections being questioned are mostly interests and penalties arbitrarily tacked on by the NAIA. Copies of the letter were given to Malacañang, DOTC, and the Ombudsman, to put on record the unjust exaction.

To all this a NAIA spokesman only said Honrado has been negotiating since last year for the airlines to sign up for leases once and for all. Last week Honrado issued a press statement that the NAIA not only may bar airlines and personnel from its premises but also confiscate the aircraft. He said four of the airlines have settled their back accounts, and four others are in negotiations for the same.

Last Friday four of the nine airlines were called one by one to the NAIA Accounting office. One airline rep brought all her files, and was able to prove that of the P33 million being collected, only a measly P4,000 actually was unpaid. Even that was subject to contrary interpretations.

Nakpil says the five other airlines earlier opted “to pay the principal amounts being demanded, but under protest.” Still, all the nine must haggle with the NAIA about the interests and penalties. This haggling is where huge amounts can be condoned and pocketed. Honrado’s press release claimed that only the Commission on Audit or the courts may waive the interests.

Honrado has been under fire for mismanaging the NAIA. Exposed last year were extortions by crooked security screeners who plant bullets or drugs in passengers’ valises. The victims paid up to P30,000 bribe to avert flight offloading and nuisance lawsuits. Recently were reported outright theft of valuables, including wallets and laptops, from luggage passing through x-rays.

Passengers complain of extortionate airport policemen doubling as moneychangers and cabbies. NAIA twice has been rated by travelogues among the world’s worst airports. P-Noy and Abaya defend Honrado against calls by lawmakers and civic groups to sack him.

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