Former DOTr exec claims 'negligence' behind air traffic mess

Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 04 2023 05:04 AM

The DOTr office in Clark, Pampanga. ABS-CBN News/File
The DOTr office in Clark, Pampanga. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—Former transportation officials ended their silence to address the recent air traffic navigational system fiasco on New Year.

Former transportation undersecretary for administration services Ochie Tuazon on Tuesday criticized the statements made by current officials. 

Tuazon, who said former Transportation Secretary Art Tugade tasked him as his spokesperson, claimed that negligence was the cause of the air traffic navigational system fiasco that affected over 65,000 passengers in Philippine airports on New Year.

"To put it bluntly, it is more of negligence on the part of the people who are supposed to be maintaining the UPS. UPS 'yan eh. It is supposed to kick in kapag nawalan ng kuryente. Bakit nag-fail? Eh 'di hindi properly maintained 'yung UPS," Tuazon said.

He is referring to the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) that reportedly conked out, leading to the shutting down of the entire Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) System of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

CAAP, in a statement, explained the loss of power in the CNS/ATM system was due to a problem in the system's electrical network with its UPS.

The ATMS failed, triggering an almost 10-hour shutdown of Philippine airspace.

In a press conference last January 1, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the system was already in its "mid-life" and would need upgrades as soon as possible. 

The Department of Transportation said it has allocated over P120 million for the upgrades required.

The CNS/ATM system was supposed to be installed in 2010 and turned over to the government by 2016. The project completion was delayed for more than 8 years. It was only in 2018 that the Duterte administration inaugurated the system. 

The full operations started in mid-2019.

Questions arose about whether the past administration procured a P13-billion "outdated" technology, which is a critical component of the country's aviation industry.

"As far as the tech is concerned, it is outdated. So as early as we took over, even no less than Sec Bautista and DOTR Usec Bobby Lim already recommended that we come up with a backup system to this system before it fails because it takes so long," CAAP director general Manuel Tamayo had said.

Tamayo had worked as DOTr undersecretary for aviation under the Duterte administration before being appointed as CAAP chief.

Tuazon took a swipe at Tamayo and those who were part of the former DOTr officials' roster, asking why they were passing the buck when they were part of the previous DOTr roster.

“Sa totoo lang mam eh sino pa ba director general ng CAAP ngayon? Hindi ba si Capt. (Manuel) Skee Tamayo? Si Dir. Gen. Skee Tamayo ay dati naming Usec. for aviation. Kasama po namin noong term ni PRRD. So sino po sisihin niya eh parang sinisi niya sarili niya kasi siya po yung andun po," he said.

Tuazon said the system was working fine when they left office and it is up to the next administration to maintain it.

“Because of that, nakapagdadgag tayo ng slots sa NAIA. Nakadagdag tayo ng flights papasok at palabas ng bansa. Paano natin sasbaihin na outdated 'yan, kung gumagana naman siya? Hindi po 'yung system eh, hindi ATM ang naging problema. Nawala 'yung power. Hindi nag-kick in ang power nila. It was not the system, but it was the UPS that failed them. It was negligence,” Tuazon said.

“Isa lang po recommendation ko sa kanila, do their jobs! I-maintain niya ng maayos yung ating CNS/ATM kasi maayos po 'yan,” he added.


The CAAP, meanwhile, said it is considering all angles, including negligence and sabotage of the air traffic management system. However, its investigation is leading to equipment failure.

"Right now, we are in the process of investigation. So far we cannot rule out 'yung ganyang senaryo, but the investigation initially is leading towards equipment failure, so we cannot comment yet on sabotage," CAAP deputy director-general for operations Edgardo Diaz said.

"All the procedures we have in place are primarily to address negligence. We have procedures, and we are religiously following that. I believe we have done our part. Kung meron mangyari diyan, that is the subject of investigation,” he added.


Tugade, meanwhile, said there is no truth to a report alleging that DOTr, under the Duterte administration, allegedly "diverted" P13 billion to NAIA's cosmetic projects supposedly allocated for the backup of air traffic control systems.

The article alleged that Tugade used the supposed "diverted" budget to improve NAIA's parking lot and electronic billboards.

In a text message, Tugade said that the allegations in that article were "farthest from the truth." Tuazon explained that it is not legally possible to "divert" funds from one agency to another.

“Hindi gagawin ni Secretary Tugade 'yun. Isang abogado rin po si Sec. Tugade. Alam po niyang makukulong siya dun,” Tuazon said.

Tuazon also said they were baffled why Tugade's name was dragged into the current issues when the former transport chief has retired.

“I have no idea mam kung bakit, pero madali po 'pag hindi maipaliwanag, magturo ka na lang ng iba. Ang pinakamadaling ituro eh 'yung wala na dyan,” Tuazon said.

Former Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal also said that the allegation of diverting funds from CAAP to MIAA "was not true." 

Monreal worked with Tugade under the past administration.

Tugade's spokesperson said that he recommended that the former transport chief file legal charges against those who published the said article.

Tuazon also said that Tugade will face the Senate inquiry on the technical issue of the ATMS if invited.

“Wala po siyang tinatago. Lahat po, he will be very transparent about everything,” Tuazon said.

CAAP Deputy Director General Edgardo Diaz declined to comment on the "diverted fund" allegation.

"I cannot comment on that kasi baka 'yung speculations na ganyan eh they want to play up politics. We don't want to be involved in politics," he said.

CAAP officials earlier said they are also willing to face the Senate probe of the CNS/ATM technical issue. 

Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Joel Villanueva have already filed a resolution to investigate the matter.

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