'Sabotage or incompetence': Probe sought over PH airport mess on New Year's day

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 02 2023 03:13 PM | Updated as of Jan 02 2023 07:04 PM

 People fall in line at the check-in counters of the NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City on January 2, 2023. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) Air Traffic Management Center experienced technical problems on New Year’s day affecting 65,000 passengers with the cancellation of hundreds of flights according to DOTr. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
People fall in line at the check-in counters of the NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City on January 2, 2023. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) Air Traffic Management Center experienced technical problems on New Year’s day affecting 65,000 passengers with the cancellation of hundreds of flights according to DOTr. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) — At least three senators on Monday sought an investigation into the "baffling" technical problem that paralyzed inbound and outbound flights at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport during New Year’s Day.

"An investigation should be done to make sure that this unfortunate incident doesn’t happen again. It's either sabotage or plain incompetence," Sen. JV Ejercito said in a statement. 

Hundreds of flights inbound and outbound the Philippines were put on hold on New Year’s Day for almost six hours after a power outage knocked out the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines' (CAAP) Air Traffic Management System.

The radar and communication system is used by aviation authorities to monitor the location of planes and man the traffic airspace capacity entering or leaving the Philippine air space. The upgraded system was inaugurated in 2018. 

Ejercito called out the CAAP for not having a back up system to respond to such emergency.

"CAAP... [has] a lot of explaining to do... What is baffling is that the Air Traffic Management System should have a backup. Having a totally non functioning radar system is not only dangerous for air travel but is a concern of national security," Ejercito lamented.

Sen. Nancy Binay is calling for a "full audit of all navigational and communications equipment installed in all airports in the country."

"Una sa lahat, buti na lamang at walang nangyaring anumang aksidente... but what happened last Sunday is scary and terrifying, and anyone who has plans of travelling to the Philippines this year may have second thoughts of visiting," noted Binay, who chairs the Senate Committee on Tourism.

She said what happened on Sunday bared how easily the country can be "crippled" by a technical glitch.

"What happened on Sunday clearly demonstrates how vulnerable we are, and with either a hardware or software glitch, we can all be crippled," Binay pointed out.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the government must ensure that the incident will not happen again "given the impact it would have on affected passengers and the negative impression that it would have on our foreign visitors."

Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate panel on public services, said an inquiry will be conducted to hold accountable the agencies responsible for the airport mess, which she described as a "national security concern."

"This is a national security concern. Thousands of lives depend on the efficiency and competence of CAAP. There needs to be transparency and accountability from CAAP," she said.

Meanwhile, House Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro warned against using the airport mess as a "prelude for the privatization of NAIA."

Castro claimed that the timing of the glitch was "fishy" amid the government's supposed effort to privatize NAIA.

"The timing is quite fishy that on December 30, DOTr Sec. Jaime Bautista said that the Marcos administration is pursuing the privatization of the country's main gateway... and 2 days later nagka-glitch at libo-libong pasahero ang naapektuhan," said the solon.

As of Monday, several flights remained canceled as Manila International Airport Authority asked for "at least 72 hours" to normalize their operations.

Bautista, who apologized for the incident that affected around 65,000 passengers, said an investigation would be conducted.

Sought for comment, Malacañang said "thorough investigation is being conducted by appropriate agencies."

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