Better safe than sorry
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 23, 2018 - 12:00am

I was informed about the upcoming notice from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding security issues at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) following the 90-day security assessment conducted by the Transportation Security Administration of the DHS, in coordination with the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) which are both under the Department of Transportation (DOTr) led by Secretary Art Tugade.

DHS has determined that the security measures implemented at NAIA are not adequate as dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and will continue to closely monitor the security situation at the airport as well as coordinate with MIAA and OTS regarding next steps to include development and implementation of corrective actions, and scheduling of additional security assessments.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin and I met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following the Philippine Embassy in Washington’s official launch of a cloud-based electronic queue management system called QLess. During our meeting, we discussed the notice from the DHS and assured Secretary Pompeo that we are working round the clock to address the issues that have been raised, among them the need to install standalone audible alarm systems in emergency doors, calibrating walk-through metal detectors and the purchase of equipment that include X-ray machines and explosive detection systems.

Of course, the procurement process which is already ongoing takes time, but Secretary Dominguez told me that an emergency budget will be set aside to buy more sophisticated equipment which NAIA needs in upgrading their services. We certainly welcome and look at this DHS notice as a way of improving security at NAIA. But then again, we really need a new airport since a lot of the problems can be traced to the fact that NAIA is already an old airport, and considering the fact that it is now handling 42 million passengers. 

I met with officials of the DHS and TSA at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. and assured them that our Transportation Secretary Art Tugade will continue to implement corrective measures, and is monitoring their progress on a day-to-day basis to make sure that every concern – even the smallest one – is addressed. Knowing Secretary Art – he will get it done. As explained by MIAA general manager Ed Monreal, even while they wait for the delivery of new equipment – which will take time because these are not items off the shelves – manual interventions have been put in place such as the posting of additional MIAA-contracted guards 24/7 because security and safety are top priorities at NAIA.

Philippine Airlines president Jimmy Bautista whom I also spoke with by phone assured me that they will coordinate with NAIA and Secretary Tugade to see where or how the flag carrier can help in addressing the concerns raised by the TSA. Early on, PAL has taken the initiative to implement the US Transportation Security Administration Pre-check Program which is an expedited security screening program for passengers flying out of airports from and within the US. The Pre-check Program allows qualified passengers to go through dedicated TSA Pre-check lanes when departing from US airports without having to remove their shoes, jackets, belts, liquids and laptop from their bags when going through security screening.

While people may consider going through security checks to be bothersome, I really don’t mind because, as I told one of the airport personnel who was apologetic as I went through the requisite security check, better safe than sorry.   

DOTr, MIAA and OTS are strongly committed to enhancing airport security at NAIA and are ready to work with the US TSA to address security issues that have been identified, implement corrective measures and ensure that significant improvements are made for the welfare and protection of passengers.

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The return of the Balangiga bells, and the great win of Catriona Gray as Miss Universe 2018, have struck a happy note among all of us Filipinos especially those serving in diplomatic posts because the positive publicity generated by these auspicious events have instilled a greater sense of pride for our country.

Filipinos especially the people of Samar are very happy that after 117 years, the bells are finally back home at the San Lorenzo de Martir Church in Balangiga. Last Sunday, the bells pealed loudly to signal the start of the annual nine-day Misa de Gallo, the Catholic mass that is one of the most important Filipino traditions in celebrating Christmas.

As President Duterte said when he appealed for the return of the bells during his second State of the Nation Address in July 2017, the bells are part of our national heritage and reflect the courage of our forebears, with the bells serving as reminders of the sacrifice of Filipinos in fighting for our independence.

The victory of Catriona Gray in the Miss Universe pageant also shines the spotlight on Filipinos as an amazing people imbued with beauty and charm, whose country has been blessed with rich natural resources. But more than just physical beauty, what also came to the fore is the beautiful and caring heart of Filipinos for underprivileged children with revelations that the beauty queen has long been working with a non-government organization for the upliftment of children living in the slums of Tondo.

The return of the Balangiga bells and Catriona Gray’s win in the Miss Universe pageant is a wonderful way to end the year. When all is said and done, all of us Filipinos should be proud of our race regardless of which political persuasion we belong to.

Maligayang pasko po sa inyong lahat!

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