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Disaster at the airport: Abaya has to go

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Disaster at the airport: Abaya has to go

Last weekend’s five-hour power outage at Naia Terminal 3 broke the record as the most disruptive power breakdown ever to visit the country since the opening of the terminal in 2006.

Because of the huge power failure, 82 Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines domestic flights were canceled and 79 international flights delayed, affecting more than 15,000 passengers and highlighting the paralysis of the Philippine aviation industry. The blackout hit Terminal 3, which services mostly domestic flights, late on Saturday, and power was not restored until early Sunday.

Terminal 3 handles an average of 350 domestic and international flights daily. It is one of four terminals in a complex that was once slammed by the travel website Guide to Sleeping in Airports as the “world’s worst due to leaking toilets and creaking facilities.” According to Octavio Lina, Naia Terminal 3 manager, the electrical system broke down when power supplied by a Meralco substation tripped at around 8:45 p.m. on Saturday. Naia officials closed down the facilities, resulting in heavy passenger congestion and chaos at the terminal.

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The power outage struck as the administration of President Aquino was winding down. Oddly, he had earlier faced an aviation industry in disarray, as well as a demand from an outraged public for the dismissal of his controversial transportation secretary, Joseph Emilio Abaya. One social media tweeter described Abaya as “the worst and most incompetent [transportation] secretary.” The disaster at Terminal 3 is but the latest of the snafus during Abaya’s term in the Aquino Cabinet, which is exiting in public disgrace.

As public demand mounted for the head of Abaya to roll, the President fueled more outrage with his appalling response to calls to hold his transportation secretary responsible for the Black Weekend at the airport. Instead of issuing a strong reprimand to Abaya, the President merely directed him and the airport general manager, Jose Angel Honrado, “to adopt measures to avoid a repeat” of what had happened. The two men were not even given a slap on the wrist. There was no effort to hold Abaya responsible for the fiasco at the terminal. True, they were summoned to a meeting with the President, but a statement later issued by Malacañang said Mr. Aquino had also instructed airport officials “to maintain vigilance so that the safety of travelers will be assured continuously.”

The response of Honrado appeared as unconcerned as the Palace response. “As far as I know, this is the first time this happened,” he said. “We are looking into the real cause of the problem—how the power supply tripped.” He added that he and his officials were scheduled to meet with managers of Meralco, the retailer of power in Metro Manila and nearby areas, to determine the cause of the outage.

In a report, the Inquirer quoted an unidentified engineer at the airport as saying that the prolonged outage was most likely the result of negligence, and that all the terminals have preventive maintenance procedures for generator sets.

Said the engineer: “The generator sets without [electricity] load are tested weekly. A complete test for generator sets with load is conducted twice a month. These are all planned and scheduled.”

The generator sets should be quickly running should electricity trip at any terminal, the engineer said. “It takes less than 10 seconds for power to go back but the out-load has to be reset, so, all in all, the equipment should be running within a minute.” He said each set has a “priority load” for critical areas, including the passenger movement area, which must, he pointed out, never have a power outage. The blackout “would not have happened if the generator sets were well-maintained.”

The insensitive statement of Malacañang amounts to a whitewash to absolve Abaya and keep him in the Cabinet up to the last day of the Aquino administration. This means that until then, we will be saddled by Abaya’s presence despite his sordid record at the Department of Transportation and Communications. That record is marked by not only last weekend’s blackout at Terminal 3 but also by his disgraceful management of the Metro Manila railway systems, which are saddled with accidents as well as breakdowns, including recent incidents in which commuters were trapped inside trains whose doors would not open. Under Abaya’s management, the urban railway systems remain a threat to the life and limb of passengers commuting from home to work and back. The trains, some leaking and decrepit, have been described as “rolling coffins.”

This administration has a sorry record of transport mismanagement marked by power outages and mechanical breakdowns in the railway systems. This is the most compelling reason why Abaya has to go immediately, to make way for a Cabinet revamp in the twilight of the administration.

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But then we learn that Abaya is an untouchable sacred cow: He is acting president of the ruling Liberal Party. Nevertheless, he has no reason to stay in the Cabinet a minute longer.

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TAGS: airport, Joseph Emilio Abaya, Naia, Naia 3, power outage
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