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Is bad luck behind Naia’s notoriety as ‘worst airport in the world’?

People waiting in front of arrival hall of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. Noriel de Guzman

 

WAS it really bad luck that plagued the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) during the last six years, making it the focus of unwanted world attention after being tagged “The worst airport in the world”?

How about the tanim or laglag bala episode? This bullet-planting scheme was so uniquely Filipino, so in-your-face hustling only a determined and corrupt group of individuals would have the gall to conceive it and get away with it.

These are the questions irate Filipino travelers ask. Many of them travel around Asia and the world and are able to compare the Naia to other airports worldwide.

Upon arriving in their foreign destinations, they see the gleaming interiors of Changi terminal in Singapore, Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong, Malaysia’s Suvarnabhumi or China’s Pudong, and suddenly feel inferior.

Pudong’s maglev would whisk passengers away to the city center in 15 minutes. Kuala Lumpur and Japan’s Narita airport are linked by super-fast trains. The rest are served by buses and taxis that do not waylay their passengers.

For instance, Naia roofs leak and there are no sleeping areas for weary travelers waiting for their connecting flights.  There are also no entertainment facilities for them. Restaurants at the terminal are so-so.

Naia 1 was supposed to offer better services after its P1.4-billion upgrade.  Too bad, Nayong Pilipino, created during the Marcos years, was carved up for an access road to connect Naia 3 to Naia 1 in the absence of a tunnel. It was never used.

Minalas tayo [We were unlucky],” rues Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) Jose Angel Honrado. He said this before members of the media to explain the six-hour blackout that struck his turf last week. He admits, however, that the batteries he ordered replaced in the wake of the blackout were behind his standby generators’ inability to start.

Honrado is a graduate of the Philippine Air Force Flying School in Batangas. He used to be a helicopter pilot and was conferred a Master in Management from the Philippine Christian University in 2000.

But it is his closeness to the Aquinos that allegedly serves as his ticket to be the big kahuna of the country’s premier airport.

On July 8, 2010, he was sworn in as the general manager of the Miaa, a position he holds to this day.

He served as security consultant of President Aquino during the May 10 elections and also as spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). He was as aide-de-camp of the late former President Corazon Aquino.

There is a story going the rounds—which Honrado does not deny—that he threw himself to protect current President Aquino during Gringo Honasan’s siege of Malacañang in the late 1970s. Three of Aquino’s bodyguards were killed. He and Honrado survived.

Honrado is also an Aquino on his mother’s side.

While Honrado is boss of the Miaa, collections from airport taxes and fees in 2014 amounted to P9.3 billion, netting P5.25 billion. Miaa posted a net profit after tax of P3.06 billion.

The Naia was dubbed the world’s worst airport from 2011 to 2013, and the fourth worst in 2014, according to online travel web site Guide to Sleeping in Airports, which ranks airports based on comfort, convenience, cleanliness and customer service. In 2015 the Naia was dubbed the worst airport in Asia.

“Absolutely horrible to connect through this airport if you arrive in one terminal and need to get to another. Shuttle buses are infrequent and can take over an hour in the traffic. And forget about taxis; the lines take even longer,” a traveler said.

Despite the billion-peso upgrade and the transfer of five major carriers to Naia 3 to help decongest it, Naia 1 is bugged by leaking ceilings, while Naia 2 and Naia 3 have collapsing floors. “Passengers remain annoyed by the poor customer service, the long queues, the subpar food selection, the lack of restrooms and the crowded seating areas. There is definitely a long way to go, but we’re thrilled to see improvements come along bit by bit,” said a blogger.

Perhaps, as one ranking official deduced, “Honrado is not getting the full cooperation of his subordinates.”

This bad blood occurred between Honrado and the employees shortly after the Aquino administration took over in 2010.

Before that, the airport’s division chiefs were receiving midyear bonuses amounting to almost half-a-million pesos each. From this income, the employees were able to enroll their children in college, bought cars on terms, and maybe invested in a decent home.

When Honrado removed all of these incomes, except the 13th-month pay, the employees were left with practically nothing to continue the education of their children. Some of the cars were repossessed and the dream house never became a reality.

The low morale was compounded when Honrado would go to the Palace every year and give President Aquino a check for P1.5 billion in alleged savings. The Miaa cooperative had invested some money to engage in selling cellular-phone cards at the airport’s arrival areas. The dividends from these earnings were shared by the employees, but eventually removed. A new concession was given the privilege to sell Smart and Globe cards, our source said.

The BusinessMirror asked one of these concessionaires how much they earn in a day. They refused. A lady seller nodded when the BusinessMirror suggested they earned P100,000 daily.  But perhaps, it was Honrado’s military background and orientation that shocked the employees most.

The employee said that during meetings, Honrado would tear up the document a subordinate submitted just to show his pique. He was also wont to throw tantrums and threats, the source said.

“I will step down on June 30, 2016,” he would tell his employees.  The BusinessMirror was told that as early as three months into his job, some critics were already asking for his head.

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