Rename NAIA? Airport names reflect history, political power


Posted at Jun 26 2020 03:45 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2020 05:58 PM

Rename NAIA? Airport names reflect history, political power 1
Filipinos arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), January 11, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA -- If President Rodrigo Duterte's congressman son had his way, the Philippines' main airport will drop the name of martyred Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, also the symbolic head of their political foes.

The move of Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, which drew criticism on social media and the opposition, shows how centerpiece infrastructure here and abroad are named and renamed to reflect who is in power, analysts said.

"Labelling is always political, of course. They each have their own version of history and that’s their take on it," University of the Philippines-Diliman political science professor Jean Franco told ABS-CBN News.

Sen. Aquino was assassinated on Aug. 21, 1983 on the tarmac of what was then called the Manila International Airport. It was one of the catalysts of the People Power revolt 3 years later. Naming the airport after him honors the fight for democracy, no matter how imperfect, said Franco.

"It has become a symbol," she said. "Symbols are important because it inspires us to move forward, Ngayon kung papalitan, parang wala tayong soul as a nation (Renaming it is like losing our soul as a nation). It’s more than a name, it’s very symbolic."

Vice President Leni Robredo said the proposal was "ill-timed." Architect and urban planner Jun Palafox said resources would be better spent improving NAIA facilities.

"It doesn't make sense at all. It violates the sense of history, sense of place, sense of nostalgia," Palafox told ABS-CBN News.

During the term of the incumbent's predecessor, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Metro Manila's alternate gateway in Pampanga province was renamed Clark International Airport from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

The Aquino scion on an anti-corruption platform aimed at his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the late President Macapagal's daughter. During Arroyo's term as speaker, a bill was passed to restore her father's name to the airport.

Manila's main airport, formerly called Manila International Airport or MIA, was renamed after the late opposition senator in 1987, a year after a military-backed popular revolt toppled the Marcos dictatorship and installed Ninoy Aquino's widow, Corazon, as president.

Across the globe, France named its main airport after Charles de Gaulle, who repelled the Nazis during World War II. In the US, New York's airport bears the initials of beloved Pres. John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.

Other international gateways are named after the general area where they are located, like London's Heathrow and Singapore's Changi. 


Congressman Duterte said renaming NAIA to "Paliparang Pandaigdig ng Pilipinas," which literally translates to Philippine International Airport, will make it easily identifiable as Filipino.

Other air terminals in the Philippines are also named after historical figures or the long-standing political clan in the area: Davao's Francisco Dagohoy, Boracay's Godofredo Ramos, Busuanga's Francisco Reyes, Masbate's Moises Espinosa, and Baler's Dr. Juan Angara.

Renaming NAIA "doesn't make sense" as it would diminish the gateway's historic significance, Palafox said. 

Palafox said it would be better to rename airports after its location and in English, to make it easier for foreigners to understand. He cited LAX or Los Angeles International Airport in California and Dubai International Airport in the UAE.

Lawmakers should focus more on improving the country's infrastructure, building codes and urban planning instead of renaming airports, he said. 

What's more important is for an airport to be "structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and functionally working," he said.