NAIA-3 Blackout- Compromised Security and Appalling Incompetence

CONG. EMMELINE Y. AGLIPAY – VILLAR

Representative, DIWA Party-List
Congress of the Philippines

NAIA-3 Blackout: Compromised Security and Appalling Incompetence

Last month (April 2, 2016), a power outage which lasted for more than 5 hours at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 stranded thousands of passengers, and cancelled and delayed a total of 86 domestic as well as international flights.

According to NAIA-3 officials, the reason for the power outage was a tripped sub-station of power provider Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), but Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga denies such claim. Meanwhile, Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya explained that although NAIA-3 has 10 generator sets in place, these generator sets failed to transmit enough power to keep the terminal operations going.

With NAIA Terminal 3 handling an average of 350 domestic and international flights daily, the more than 5-hour blackout was naturally all over our local news and quickly spread out in social media. The news of the blackout generated strong criticisms from the public as thousands of exhausted passengers were forced to camp out inside Terminal 3, missing important appointments and personal errands as check in counters shut down. Long passenger queues also formed outside the terminal as entrances were closed during the blackout.

Making matters worse is the fact that even prior to this incident, NAIA has already been hounded by various other problems. From leaking toilets, collapsed floors, dilapidated facilities, malfunctioning equipment, passenger congestion, and rude or corrupt personnel, NAIA has always been the subject of countless criticisms from the public. Just early this year, we were outraged when the “tanim-bala” controversy exposed the modus of some airport personnel in extorting money from our innocent and unsuspecting overseas workers. For all these, the international travel website “Guide to Sleeping in Airports” even used to label NAIA as the world’s worst airport.

I must say, however, that this recent blackout takes the cake. This is no longer simply a matter of inefficiency, nor is it simply a matter of inconvenience. A 5-hour long blackout without any adequate emergency back-up plan in place is already a grave national security concern which must be taken very seriously by the concerned governmental agencies.

The significance of national security, particularly in the area of airport security, has never been as critical as it is in this present day and age. After the tragedy of 9/11 and the emergence of extremist groups around the world, almost all countries have made it a matter of national policy to constantly beef up their respective national security policies. It seems however that we have been moving in the opposite direction. With this recent incident, not only did we realize how unsafe and unsecure we are within our own airports, we have also embarrassingly illustrated to the whole world how vulnerable we are from potential attacks. If security breaches transpire in broad daylight with a fully operational logistical system in place and in countries with far more superior security capabilities than us, how can we be secure if we do not seem to even have any contingency or back-up plan for airport power outages which can last for hours? As inconvenient as it already is for our overseas workers who use our airports upon departing from and arriving to the country, the last thing we need is a breach in our security which could compromise their safety and of the riding public.

Having said that, it is now imperative for the DOTC to restore the credibility of the security policies we have in place in our airports. This is important not only just to provide an efficient system for the sake of convenience, but more importantly to establish the fact that we have a competent security system in place.

In line with this, we call on the NAIA management and the DOTC to invest in long-term solutions and be more proactive in preventing another crisis like this. An in-depth, across-the-board vulnerability check on all international and domestic airports is also in order. We must also understand and perhaps even reflect on the proximate cause of the recent blackout – is the problem merely an isolated infrastructure issue or is the problem really a matter of incompetent administration of our airports? An urgent need to assess our current infrastructure capacity is also in order so we can immediately implement a sustainable solution.

As we move forward, we also need to look into our ASEAN neighbors and carefully assess and compare our own capacity. It is only in acknowledging our government’s shortcomings that we can successfully integrate much needed reforms within our system which hopefully one day can be at par with the standards set by the international community.

By anticipating the cause and providing a clear set of guidelines in case of emergencies such as a power outage, we not only solve the problem of providing the riding public a right so basic that it need not even be demanded, but equally important is that we can deter any potential security threat that we could encounter in the future.

If there’s anything good we can take away from this horrific incident, it’s probably the fact that at least we are now aware how miserable our situation is, and that we are now presented with an opportunity to make sure we put the necessary reforms in place to bring about positive changes. But we can no longer afford to dilly dally on this. Last month’s blackout caused thousands of passengers to miss important flights. Next time, it might cost more than just missing flights. It might cost lives. We certainly would not want to wait for that to happen before we take action.