Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) general manager Jose Honrado has called “unfair” the rating by a travel website of the Naia as the worst in the world. Like Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, he said that the Naia has outlived its usefulness and is near its saturation point of 32 million people: it services 30 million people a year. Both have pointed to the Clark International Airport as the airport of the future, but neither seems concrete on when that future is going to be realized.
But both missed the point about the criticisms on the
Naia: that its facilities are poor not exactly because they’re inadequate (although that’s part of the critique), but because they’re decrepit and poorly maintained and managed; that while being run by former military men like Honrado, which may explain its barracks-like ambience and inhospitability, it remains a security risk. And again while being run by ex-officers, it’s a haven of extortion and bribery, perhaps because of rogues in the immigration and customs bureaus, and even reporters who play porters. Even if government pours billions for a new airport development project in Clark, if the bad habits of government airport management continue, then we would only be spreading the cancer of Naia to Pampanga and around the country. As it is, Naia is an international disgrace.
Naia Terminal 1 has obviously outlived its usefulness, but having been designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, it’s an artistic curiosity and not at all badly designed. But typical perhaps of the alleged lack of maintenance ethic of Filipinos, it has been left practically to rot and fall: it’s grimy and dreary outside and inside; its windows (or what’s left of them, since smashed windows have not been replaced and instead boarded up by plywood or cardboard, typical of the “barong-barong” mentality of its management), are darkened by dirt and soot, looking like the Ray-Ban shades of the “Top Gun” pretenders of the potbellied Avsecom, whose girth and battened figures make any traveler with the slightest concern for security start to wonder whether he’s safe in an airport with security men looking like characters from the underworld that seem ready to cannibalize themselves. Immigration and customs men, many of them also potbellied, loiter around, with seemingly nothing to do. Here, state agents are vagrants and even men of leisure: they seem to be forever taking their time, lolling around, passing the time, waiting for the break if not already spending it on people’s time and money.
One test of an airport’s hygiene is the toilet. In Naia 1, it’s small, overused and poorly maintained. A janitor is inside nearly the whole time, but he can’t seem to arrest the toilet’s long, deep slide down the flush. The McDonald’s crew keeps the fast-food chain’s toilets immaculate despite the large number of patrons, why can’t the Naia management just hire it? Collecting from every airport user P750 as terminal fee, management is awash with cash which it seems to flush down the toilet without any visible improvement in hygiene. Here, the business is dirt.
Naia 2 which services entirely the national flag carrier Philippine Airlines is, since a more recent development, more airy and spacious, its white walls warmer and more welcoming. But decrepitude is creeping in mostly because, again, of poor maintenance. And its toilets are not enough to service the large volume of passengers arriving and departing; its immigration line is also inadequate.
Naia 3 is supposed to absorb the ever burgeoning volume of airport users, but it has crashed under the weight of corruption charges even before its operation could take off. It perfectly rounds up the notoriety of Philippine international airports: that they’re largely a sorry sort.
In the era of instantaneous travel and cut-throat airline competition, the airport is almost always the traveler’s coffee-shop or plaza bar. It has become the subject of connoisseurship by jet-setters and travel writers. Travel writing has become the new lifestyle dictatorship, the barometer of taste, charting the systole and diastole of fads and trends. In that charting, Naia has always been at the bottom; it has never been “in,” it has always been “out.” It’s an international disgrace and a national shame. He might have been killed in the tarmac of the old Manila International Airport (MIA), but Ninoy Aquino has been assassinated many times over by having his name used for MIA’s rechristening.
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