Just this weekend, another report of theft by an airport security officer was caught on CCTV a few days after the much media-covered dollar-swallowing incident by a lady airport personnel. There was also that “minor” explosion at the airport parking area in what is supposed to be one of the most secure places in the country. What’s happening with MIAA? Is there a breakdown of law and order in our premiere gateway? We all have our negative airport experiences including the long lines, power outages and the exceptionally unfortunate incidents of lost baggage and petty corruption. Whatever is the case, all of these incidents, including the “laglag bala” of the past and the persistent report of human trafficking, leave a continuing black mark on our premiere airport.
And it is not all about infrastructure. Yes, the Manila airport is as old as it looks from the time the senior Marcos modernized it in the early ’70s. There are older airports globally that function well, such as the aging but very much efficient airports of Taipei, Macau and Busan. No-frills but efficient, just like the state-of-the-art airports of Changi, Hongkong and Soekarno-Hatta of Indonesia. So even if we expect modernization to kick in with a PPP for the airport, an infrastructure overhaul might not assure us of a Manila airport efficiently at par with its neighbors.
Is it the organizational set-up? Maybe yes, as any organization that is made up of 22 independent agencies may lead to a disconnect and discord. Streamlining operations is a very difficult task under such conditions, but doable. Would an organizational change suffice? Not guaranteed. Besides, other international airports in other countries have the same challenge yet remain to be far efficient and seamless. European and American airports run in the same manner, yet are very much functional.
Is it about leadership? Resignation or a change at the top when shortcomings or failure of performance occurs is a rare exception in our Philippine bureaucracy, but it does not guarantee that the airport arena will turn a new leaf for the better. It would definitely help though that choosing our airport leaders, especially the General Manager, veer away from being political assignments and be more a case of appointing professionally capable managers to run such a complex and demanding institution. But even so, MIAA leadership may not be the issue here.
My two cents worth: More than infrastructural, organizational and leadership change, there’s a need for a paradigm shift in terms of work culture and attitude, specifically on how people who work in our premiere airport perceive their work to be, and why they are there.
Whoever they may be, whatever position they occupy, and whatever agency they represent, government personnel at our premiere airport need to realize that they are literally our front liners, the forward ambassadors, and that their actions or misactions speak so much of the kind of people, government and country we have.
Indeed, those assigned at the airports should be a cut above the rest but without the sense of entitlement and power. Airport personnel, aside from their professional pursuit, must have a sense of public service—of accountability and of integrity. It should be that those manning our airports undergo background checks prior to their posting, as well as periodic integrity tests and constant refresher on accountability. And if there is a place where the one strike policy should be a given every time an infraction is committed, it should be at this environment.
Remember that line “not a whiff of corruption”? That has more urgency and relevance in this arena. To achieve this, politics must not play a part in securing these supposedly juicy airport positions. Whom you know and who you are must not be one’s qualification. It is a harsh but basic step, spoon-feeding airport personnel on their true reason-for-being why they are there. But from all these humiliating incidents happening there, it looks like such a reminder on what public service really means is a necessity at this point.
The airport is a microcosm of a country and how it is managed reflects so much on our national affairs. And no matter our efforts on shoring up our image internationally, all of these will go to waste when we seem to have no integral control on our doorways. Past administrations have tried countless times to facelift MIAA. There is even that notion that once our airports are privatized, gone will be the chaos and shame that we have right now. I don’t think so—unless a paradigm shift on the character of our airport personnel occurs, which will lead to a true spirit of public service, accountability and integrity flying high at our premiere Manila airport.
The author may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org