Five days before Christmas 2013, four people were killed in a drive-by shooting at the arrival bay of Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the main gateway to the Philippines.
The dead included a town mayor and an 18-month-old baby whose companions were waiting for a relative caught in the holiday traffic on the way to fetch them at the airport.
While the Mindanao politician and his wife have had brushes with death in the past, initial reports of their ambush focused on an eyebrow-raising lack of CCTVs at the crime scene. The security cameras could have helped identify the motorcycle-riding killers.
This is not the first time the lack of CCTVs at the newest terminal in NAIA was headline-grabbing. In the summer of 2012, at the baggage carousel, celebrities Claudine Barreto and Raymart Santiago were engaged in a brawl with TV personality Ramon Tulfo. The he-said and she-said accounts could have been easily checked against what the security cameras could have captured when the incident happened from start to finish. Only a few seconds of the brawl was captured by a smartphone video.
Mar Roxas, then the Transportation Secretary (he is now Interior Secretary), blamed the delays in the signing of a deal with Takenaka, the Japanese builder of the airport terminal, which has a checkered past. He had explained that the provision of CCTVs is among the deliverables of Takenaka when that completion contract between the Japanese contractor and the Philippine government is finally signed after a decade-long wait.
Watch this clip I took from a previous press conference:
That contract with Takenaka has finally been signed in August 2013 after long negotiations over work and service warranties, as well as when the contract fees (around $40 million), have been finalized. The Aquino government, the 4th to handle the NAIA-3 terminal project, doesn’t want to spend more money to fix defects after the renovations.
The deal involved upgrading and providing the airport systems — and yes, installing CCTVs all over the terminal is included, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya confirmed to me via text message.
These are centrally controlled by a system only Takenaka has access to. Remember: NAIA 3 was supposed to be a modern airport terminal where even the baggage handling, air-conditioning systems, flight information displays, computer terminals, gate coordination, fire protection systems, and other nitty gritties needed to seamlessly operate and efficiently run it are all integrated. In fact, the other international airlines cramped in NAIA 1 could not transfer to NAIA 3 because the baggage system at Terminal 3 is still manually controlled. Too, the security x-rays required by international aviation bodies regulating flights between territories have yet to function.
The lack of CCTVs is just the tip of the iceberg, one of the many in the long to-do list that could be started only when a deal is finally sealed with a contractor chosen to complete and upgrade the unfinished terminal. For about decade, Filipino officials have been keen on signing up Takenaka, which already knows the building and can finish the work faster than a newcomer.
Negotiators from both parties played hardball. There were allegations of not negotiating with clean hands. But the 2013 deal was eventually hammered because of an upcoming deadline: in 2015, the Philippines will host the APEC meeting. Officials want the entire NAIA 3 up and running efficiently by 3rd quarter 2014.
The negotiators had to iron out who is accountable for what and for how much. The coverage of the project involves structural retrofitting and rehabilitation, as well as the replacement of systems that Takenaka installed before work on the 98%-finished facility was stopped in December 2002.
The NAIA-3 project — designed to address the fast growing number of passengers and flights already choking the airport terminals and single runway — was unilaterally abrogated by the Arroyo government to show the world we don’t tolerate wrongdoings by investors. After the Supreme Court nullified the contract in 2003, the Filipino-led Piatco consortium, which hired Takenaka as a general contractor, and Germany’s Fraport AG filed separate arbitration cases in Washington and Singapore.
The Philippines spent billions of dollars in legal fees to highlight that the Filipino and German investors padded their costs, tried to bribe government officials and regulators to increase their margins and lock out competitors, and violated local laws on foreign ownership in the course of doing the project. Only half of the one-kilometer-long airport facility was opened for commercial use when NAIA-3 was partially opened in 2008 since the Philippine legal team and various engineering groups stressed the other half is not structurally safe. Some parts couldn’t withstand an Intensity 6 earthquake.
Takenaka was caught in the middle of these legal, structural and financial mess over NAIA 3 among the government, Piatco and Fraport. Like lovers in a roller-coaster relationship, middlemen who would try to patch them up over and over were aplenty, and meetings were held here and in Japan. Both walked the tight rope. On one hand, they wanted closure and just complete the airport. On the other, they wanted to make sure they don’t incriminate themselves.
With 4 lives lost before promises of a better future is even realised, the past catches up again.
Note: I’ve written, reported and edited numerous stories — breaking and in-depth pieces, as well as a book chapter — on the NAIA-3’s twists and turns for my previous employers, including Newsbreak, ABS-CBN and Rappler.