EDITORIAL: A monumental embarrassment

A BIG MESS at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport affecting international and local flights, including those to and from the United States

What happened at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on the first day of this new year can only be described as a monumental embarrassment, one that told the rest of the world that the Republic of the Philippines remains very much a Third World country.

The explanation or excuses offered by the government bureaucrats does not make sense.

How in the name of all that’s good and holy can the airspace of an entire nation be shut down for an entire day? This means that  no local and international planes were flying in or out of the country on one of the busiest days of any year.

It was bad enough that locals intending to fly to and from their provinces ended up stuck at the airports. The domino effect meant that all airports everywhere had ceased to function. But international flights could neither leave nor enter Philippine air space, too. This means that planes already on the way to Manila were forced to turn back to their points of origin.

The situation on the ground was worse. Tens of thousands of passengers were stuck at the NAIA, and were left to their own devices. They received no food nor water, and had no comfortable place to spend long hours not knowing if and when they could finally board their aircraft.

The Philippines may be one of the best tourist destinations in the planet, what with its countless beaches, resorts, and hotels all over the archipelago. Then there are the people who are naturally warm, friendly and hospitable.

All of that does not mean a thing when the country’s premiere airport is totally shut down.

In any other airport in the developed world, all the passengers would have been fed and taken to a nearby hotel at no expense on the part of the traveler.

We can imagine no sadder sight than a group of senior citizens too exhausted to do anything than to find an empty spot on the – hopefully clean – floor, hoping to catch some rest.

The organization tasked with insuring that the country’s airports are run efficiently gave the lamest of excuses, blaming a glitch for the total shutdown. Very clearly, there was no back up system for the failed uninterrupted power supply. So said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, which oversees the NAIA’s Air Traffic Management Center.

Some 65,000 travelers were affected by the shutdown, and one can expect the foreigners to vow never to return to the Philippines, while also advising their friends and relatives to do the same.

One top government official said that the NAIA was easily ten years behind such nearby airports like Changi in Singapore or the Hongkong International Airport. He was wrong. It’s more like 25 or 30 years behind.

Ask any FilAm or overseas Filipino worker who is used to traveling via world class airports like the ones in San Francisco, LA, Dubai, Japan, or the United Arab Emirates. They will say that the glitch that happened on New Year’s Day at the NAIA can never, ever happen.

Now the Senate wants to conduct an investigation to determine what went wrong. There’s no need. Everybody knows what went wrong. Bureaucrats in charge of the Philippines’ airports have been sleepwalking their way to work, not planning for any and every possible eventuality for the past four, five, or six decades.

Should we even count on real changes to take place after this week’s excruciating national embarrassment?

You tell us, folks. You tell us.