The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), a mainstay in the “worst of” lists since 2010, is sporting a new black eye. This time, the latest injury to the country’s image as a veritable investment and tourism destination did not stem from paralyzed airspace due to an embarrassing power outage. It is related to a bizarre theft incident involving a security screener that may be worthy of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” As a result, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), which manages NAIA, have fallen further into disrepute.

The culprit is an Office of Terminal Security (OTS) employee, who was caught on closed-circuit television camera stuffing alleged stolen money in her mouth. On Sept. 8, she reportedly stole $300 from the shoulder bag of a departing Chinese passenger at NAIA Terminal 1.

NAIA predators

The suspect denied the allegation, claiming what she swallowed was chocolate and not the missing dollars. The CCTV footage also showed two other OTS personnel assisting the screening officer in hiding the criminal evidence. The DOTr immediately placed the individuals under preventive suspension. As expected, the viral video has earned the ire and ridicule of netizens. I will not be surprised if it has been shared on various social media platforms worldwide.

Now, I shudder to think that the country would not only be known as home to the majestic bird of prey, the Philippine (monkey-eating) Eagle, but also as the land of dollar-swallowing, predatory airport officers. I am afraid that such ill-repute will become a red flag, if not a turn-off, for tourists and investors wanting to visit the country.

To be fair, the OTS has suspended or dismissed security screeners for extortion, rude behavior, improper disposal of prohibited items and violation of the ‘no tipping’ policy since July 2022, according to a STAR article. The PhilStarLife also reported that airport officials are not allowed to wear clothes with pockets in view of the theft cases. The policy became effective in March.

Last February, five OTS personnel were relieved from duty for allegedly extorting 20,000 yen from a Thai tourist. The victim uploaded on Facebook videos that recorded the extortion incident at Terminal 2. In April, two OTS intelligence agents were charged with qualified theft for stealing Australian $1,000 from a Japanese tourist at Terminal 3.

In a press statement, the transport department said it would file legal and administrative charges against the dollar-eating suspect and her alleged accomplices. The DOTr also vowed to impose the maximum penalty to those culpable of the crime. The intent is obviously to strike fear into the hearts of crooks in NAIA and other attached agencies.

Internal cleansing

I hope this is not just false bravado on the part of the department, which has suffered online bashing due to several viral videos featuring airport scalawags. It must seriously commit to stamping out illegal activities within its ranks, or it will continue to be the den of thieves and corrupt individuals. Last February, a transport official promised that DOTr would nurture a culture of professionalism, integrity and commitment to public service within the OTS. Nevertheless, thievery among security screeners persists up to this day.

Clearly, the work culture in the transport sector, particularly at NAIA, is problematic. The attitude and ethics of the rank-and-file are but a reflection of the characteristics of the upper echelons. The security officer’s dollar-eating act indicates her perception of her superior and top managers. It is also symptomatic of the organizational ills at the airport and the entire DOTr.

In my Aug. 26 column, I cited that incompetent and insensitive leaders are creating problems for the parent governmental agency and its attached agencies such as the NAIA, Philippine Ports Authority, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. This month, the P3-billion fuel subsidy was finally released after the DOTr corrected the deficient and inconsistent documents submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (Business Mirror).

Take note that the ayuda should have been distributed to the 1.36 million drivers and operators in January. I do not know whether the transport sector will consider the subsidy a boon given that local oil companies have increased the prices of diesel and gasoline for the 11th straight week.


In the last six months, I have traveled to the United States, China, Singapore, France, Austria and Japan for business and family-related matters. I continue to marvel at their state-of-the-art and world-class airports. After all, the airport is the first and last thing a visitor sees in a foreign country.

How I wish I could say the same for NAIA. The World Bank said the Philippines will be elevated to an upper middle-income status in a few years. An upper-middle-income country has a gross national income (GNI) per capita of at least $4,246. Yet, technical glitches, power outages, old facilities and corrupt personnel continue to saddle our primary gateway.

I have also received information that the dismissed MIAA acting general manager has refused to accept the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman. The former chief and his assistant were found guilty of grave misconduct, abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service (CNN). I even heard that a top transport official is lobbying for his reinstatement. This is outrageous and unacceptable. These officials are not God’s gift to the executive department. Their mindset and skills are not fit for public service. Where is their sense of propriety and accountability? Their sense of shame?

Thus, I again appeal to President Bongbong Marcos Jr. to rid government of these inefficient and unprofessional alter egos. I urge PBBM to let go of these useless officials because they are chipping away at his very high public trust and satisfaction ratings. He has given them enough chance to prove their worth, so he does not owe them anything. These officials should atone for their incompetence before the President and the Filipino people. They deserve to get the axe.

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