Airport security
Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The security concerns that earned us a travel warning from the US Department of Homeland Security validate our suspicions. It may seem that NAIA is a bit better managed now than during P-Noy’s time, but that is still not good enough.

As I wrote a few columns ago, even Singapore seems to have concerns about NAIA airport security. We were subjected to arrival security clearance as soon as we were off our plane. Then I was told we are in a “red list” that makes that extra security precaution at Changi necessary.

It shows that they are not impressed by NAIA security procedures. They need to protect the Changi terminal from potential security risks from passengers who were just subjected to NAIA security clearance procedures.

Ironically, we seem to have even more security checks than in other airports I have been. For instance, no airport requires x-ray screening as you enter the terminal building other than our airports. Not even China, security paranoid as it is, requires that.

Then again, that x-ray screening upon entering a NAIA terminal is necessary to give the security officers opportunities to do some criminal mischief themselves. In P-Noy’s time, this was where “tanim bala” happened. Today, this was where a Taiwanese tourist was robbed by security officers in clear view of CCTV cameras.

Okay, so the security officers involved were relieved and charged. But the fact that this incident happened showed how badly the DOTr Office of Transport Security screens its officers. They are actually hiring criminals and exposing the public to them.

The reaction of NAIA general manager Ed Monreal to the US security warning was to pit the Americans against ICAO. Monreal said that the MIAA and OTS are compliant with security standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Monreal also added that NAIA authorities have already corrected and complied with seven out of the 16 recommendations indicated by the US Transport Security Administration or TSA. Without going to specifics, Monreal implied that the remaining ones required capex that must undergo stringent government purchasing requirements.

But there are NAIA procedures and practices that ought to be improved right away without need for capex. The most obvious one is the security passes they issue to so-called VIPs and their minions.

Those VIP passes are like the low numbered car plates. It is abused and used to exempt holders from usual security procedures. Take the case of that congressman who even threatened an airport security officer as he shoved his pass on the poor officer’s face.

I often see bodyguards of VIPs meeting their bosses as they walk off a plane even before Immigration. It is easy to presume they carry their firearms with them. That’s a clear security breach.

Secretary Tugade ought to use political will to bar such armed bodyguards from the supposedly secured areas of the airport. I am sure that is a tough rule to impose on politicians who enjoy such privilege. But it is Tugade’s problem to appeal to their sense of patriotism. Get President Duterte to issue that rule if Tugade feels inadequate.

Other than security, NAIA management should be more proactive in managing traffic flow between terminals. A reader related his experience during the height of the Christmas travel rush which shows NAIA management sleeping on the job.

“I went to T3 to fetch an arriving passenger. It took me almost two hours to negotiate that short stretch from NAIEX down ramp to the rotunda and around it to get to T3.

“Both driveways to arrivals and departures were jammed. And all because vehicles on the leftmost lane to the parking area couldn’t move forward as the parking lot was full. These vehicles backed up and blocked the other lanes all the way back to the rotunda. Gridlock! Even vehicles headed to Slex were trapped.

“The officials inside the terminal were oblivious to the problem outside and they were supposed to be on Pasko alert mode! Nonperforming underlings! Kawawa the big boss who must suffer for their incompetence.

“MIAA management should have spent some of its huge surplus on a new parking facility which can be assembled in a jiffy similar to those in Greenhills and Makati CBD.”

Maybe NAIA management is not inclined to spend money to build adequate parking around their terminals because they expect the private sector proponent to do that after the NAIA operations and management privatization deal is awarded. In the meantime, we all suffer.

Actually, that traffic problem is easily solved if NAIA management had the skills and the inclination to solve it. Dealing with traffic was one of the first things the private manager of Mactan Cebu International Airport did. Even the taxi stops were clearly marked, as it should be.

I just arrived from Singapore which handles more passengers than NAIA. But they don’t have this sort of problems of mismanagement of traffic and the airport terminal in general.

But it is hard to totally blame Monreal for NAIA’s woes. He was station manager here of Cathay Pacific and he knows the problems from the private sector’s point of view. I suspect that he can’t do much because the prevailing government management culture is too strong to resist.

I am sure he cannot even fire erring employees easily. This is why the privatization of NAIA O&M is an urgent need. There will be resistance from those who benefit from the old rotten system but this is also a test of the political will of the Duterte administration to do things right.

Tugade has learned the art of using press releases to relieve pressure enough for him to do nothing much. In my years in PR, the initials stood for performance reporting. If he only has promises rather than performance to report, he is better off saying nothing. He only gets people frustrated and very mad at their useless government.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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