If you want to check the competence of government and how rotten the infrastructure of this country is, try travelling and using Manila’s fabled international airport (fabled because it was named after a national hero, Ninoy Aquino; and it has been singled out in the internet as the worst airport in the world).
The airport and transportation are under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), a sluggard ministry of the Aquino administration.
There is no dedicated highway leading to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1, the original airport. The ramp from Epifanio delos Santos Avenue leading westward to Tramo Road is choked by traffic most of the time. You go up the ramp, make a left turn and then as you drive down the ramp upon turning left, there is more traffic—and squatters. Thus, what should be 10 minutes of easy drive from Makati could take an hour. Along the way there are plenty of policemen and traffic enforcers—half of whom are bogus—who could wave you down for any imagined violation.
Entering NAIA 1 is an ordeal. There is no apparent system. There are few slots to park one’s car. So many people want to help you with your luggage. Be careful, some of them are snatchers. Inside the departure hall, there is pandemonium—plenty of Muslim pilgrims and overseas Filipino contract workers spilled onto the cavernous hall, all wanting to check in. The queue at immigration can be another ordeal. There are not enough immigration counters.
NAIA 1 was built 32 years ago by Marcos. It has not been renovated and since 1991, has been used at three to four times its rated capacity of 4.5 million. A second NAIA terminal was completed during the presidency of Joseph Estrada and since 1999, has been used by flag carrier Philippine Airlines which is in the midst of a major capacity expansion, resulting in the overflow of its passengers to NAIA 3 which was completed under the Presidency of Gloria Arroyo. Supposed to handle 13 million passengers a year, NAIA 3 is grossly inadequate and ill-equipped for the booming travel business.
Despite three terminals, the NAIA has only one runway. The result is unimaginable congestion. On a flight to Singapore recently, the plane with architect Jun Palafox had to wait three hours before it could take off – three hours on the runway. Enough time for the aircraft to reach its destination. So a three-hour flight became six hours. “We were on board our plane for three hours. Waiting No. 6, then No. 13 to take off. The reason for the delay—faulty radars.” As if that was not bad, the waiting time for the return flight to land was four hours. One prominent tycoon arrived from Australia last year in his private plane. He was made to wait three hours before he could land and endured another four hours of horrendous traffic from Pasay to Quezon City via EDSA. Says he: “It would have been faster for me to fly back to Australia.”
Winces Palafox, who has been to 200 airports in 63 countries as a master planner: “NAIA is really the worst airport today.”
On my recent return flight from Doha, my Qatar Airways plane had to wait 40 minutes before it could land. At NAIA, waiting for one’s flight to be able to take off or land is like waiting for Godot.
Inside the arrival hall, you notice the flooring has seen better days. Plenty of leaks. Plenty of patchwork done of the peeling off tiles. There was a huge throng of passengers trying to clear through immigration. The wait is about 20 minutes. Singapore Immigration can clear you in three minutes or less. At the NAIA Terminal 1 baggage area, you see more crowds looking for trolleys.
The trolleys are hidden somewhere on a corner just before the Customs area. Why are the trolleys hidden? Well, so you can give a tip to the errand boys volunteering to get a trolley for you. Arrival Customs is happily snappy. They clear you right away.
Outside the arrival hall, there is even more pandemonium. You cross the street with your trolleys of bags then go down a downward ramp that makes sure your luggage gets spilled and scattered all over the narrow roadway. Don’t worry, errand boys will retrieve your luggage for you, for a tip. At the end of the ramp is again pandemonium. Vehicles are trying to outdo each other picking up passengers.
Exiting NAIA road towards the Domestic Airport, you encounter traffic enforcers trying to shake you down for swerving, a traffic violation because they make sure only one vehicle at a time could make a right turn towards Domestic Airport road. Again, be careful, some of the traffic enforcers are bogus. Speak to them in English and ask for their mission order why they are in that place. They will let you go.
Architect Palafox recalls that in 2004, his firm, Palafox Associates, with SGV and Pacific Consultants of Japan, submitted a master plan to upgrade and improve the NAIA/MIA. “To-date, nothing has been carried out of the plan,” says Jun. The plan would have extended the capacity of the NAIA/MIA by 15 to 25 years while waiting for Clark to be fully operational as an international airport. “There was no corruption in the award of the contract to us,” assures Palafox. “Frustrating,” he says.
By the way, only in the Philippines can one print, laminate and install his own car plate. The DOTC’s Land Transportation Office has no car plates. One source told me a bidder for the plates was being asked P500 million, money down. He balked. He was not sure he would win the contract even after parting off with his P500 million, which by any measure is quite a fortune.