Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Pandemonium at NAIA 2 after Xiamen Jet accident
Young ladies whiling away time at NAIA 2 Terminal while awaiting flight resumptions.

Last Friday’s accident at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)---ironically just five days ahead of the 35th commemoration of Ninoy Aquino’s heroism and martyrdom at the NAIA premises Aug. 21---was WAITING TO HAPPEN.  Most everyone whose plane has ever taken off or arrived at NAIA has been keenly aware of how precarious the situation of our  premier airport is, especially for the big birds.

Last Friday the inevitable happened: a Xiamen Air Jet skidded off on NAIA’s one and only international runway due to heavy rains, and got stuck in the mud. The resultant chaos in international flights to and from Manila we continue to feel till now.  To cope with the closure of that solitary NAIA runway, 70 international flights also had to be cancelled to prevent massive pile-up at NAIA while dozens upon dozens of international flights had to be diverted to Mactan in Cebu and to Clark Airport in Central Luzon, as well as to Hongkong, Ho Chi Minh, KL and Bangkok.   


The impact in economic losses for both international airlines as well as the PH economy would be felt for weeks to come--- but most important of all, we Pinoys have come to realize with finality how vulnerable NAIA truly is.

 The bad thing is that the whole world now knows our weakness. Sadly, however, the only positive musing we could muster was how lucky it was that it was a smaller plane like Xiamen Air that slid off the runway, as it could be lifted by two cranes the day after the accident.  What if it were one of those really big long birds!

For decades various administrations have planned the modernization of NAIA  and an absolute imperative was to construct another runway for those gigantic planes, but this  never came about.  NAIA has only one runway for international flights and a shorter one for domestic flights. It  has been outmoded for a long while, and Metro Manila---a teeming jungle of humanity---has had only one airport---the one honoring Ninoy Aquino (what a disservice to him!).

Contrast Manila's predicament with Tokyo, which has three airports: the Haneda Airport which is much like NAIA in proximity---25 km. from city center. Then there is Yokota, 40 km. from city center, used by the US Air Force, but which could be an emergency airport for the civilian population. Then there's Narita, the most used, 70 km. away.  


The thing to do now is to come to a forthright decision about NAIA. Today’s Inquirer editorial asserts that it’s "Time to retire NAIA.” As stressed, the airport that was meant to serve at most 31 million passengers a year is now strained to service 42 million passengers---and projected to rise to 47 million by 2020.

 My suggestion---and I’m sure officials of the Duterte administration have thought about this---is to convert NAIA to a COMPLETELY DOMESTIC AIRPORT handling increasing local flights as various resorts in the country take off with our tourism program. Corollary to this, CONCENTRATE ON TURNING CLARK INTO THE PRINCIPAL INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY OF AND TO THE PHILIPPINES.


I have flown out of Clark a number of times for Europe and I notice that it still has remained like a poor cousin to NAIA, with limited flights to and from PH as well as limited facilities for passengers. Now that the disaster waiting to happen in NAIA has happened, I’d suggest that Clark be converted fast into the country’s premier international airport, and equipped with all the comforts and facilities as such.

Clark’s advantages are several: principally, it has an excellent runway built by the Americans and great for the big birds. If another runway is necessary, land is available all around---unlike in NAIA in Paranaque where land is so tight, or if available, only at astronomical prices as the authorities would have to purchase subdivisions completely populated, if a second international runway were to be built.


For us Filipinos, many of whom exhibit an insular mentality so that additional travel time to Clark is anathema, make the travel to this former US base easy and comfortable. If need be, let's construct a separate highway to address traffic to and from Clark to Metro Manila, as such highway would be far cheaper as it would only involve mainly rice lands. And ultimately, construct a railway to and from Clark to Manila for passengers and goods---far cheaper than expropriating plush subdivisions around NAIA in ParaƱaque for a second international runway.

On the other hand, Cebu International Airport also has to be refurbished and upgraded to fully function as an international gateway---to absorb ALL  the traffic to and from the progressive island provinces in the Visayas.  End goal is to divert air traffic from Manila. 


In terms of population and potential for growth, PH cannot be considered small or even medium-size. Let us think big, but let's also put solid planning into our dreams and ambitions. I have traveled quite a bit in my professional work and I have been to some of the best airports in the world. Among the latest is the Malpensa Airport outside Milan in Italy, which took my breath away with its size, efficiency and amenities---so impressive.

We can’t afford to stand still, as our neighboring countries are modernizing their airports. In Hongkong, reclamation is going on  for a THIRD RUNWAY, with two terminals to be built. Kuala Lumpur’s airport is reachable in an hour by car, or ½ hour by high-speed train to city center. Singapore’s Changi Airport is developing A THIRD RUNWAY, along with Terminal 5.


NAIA’S disaster waiting to happen indeed happened last Friday, but let’s already stop wringing our hands and tossing blame around---instead, let’s buckle down to work. The San Miguel Conglomerate, the largest in the country and led by dynamic visionary tycoon Ramon Ang, is said to be mulling a $15-billion international "aerotropolis" in Bulacan, Bulacan, with  FOUR RUNWAYS and a proposed spillway into Manila of floodings in the area. 

On the other hand, a group led by the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng consortium, in partnership with the Cavite local government, is said to be considering expanding the Danilo Atienza Air Base of the Philippine Air Force in Sangley Point, with some reclamation, at a cost of P763B. There's also the P350-B plan of the Ayala/Aboitiz and leading taipans to build a second NAIA runway and expand and link the three airport terminals.

These plans are great and now is the time to DREAM BIG AND EXECUTE THOSE PLANS  during the administration of President Duterte who likes to project himself as a dynamic leader. He’s still equipped with plenty of political capital---this is the time to show it off with sound decisions that will benefit the entire country. 

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