MANILA, Philippines – As Filipinos tried to digest the fact there are no CCTV security cameras to document the crime that killed 4 people at an international airport terminal in Manila, a video clip I took of then Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas during a press conference in 2012 became relevant again. He may not have realized then that his words, actions and demeanor as captured in that iPhone video has inadvertently set the stage for all the blame he is receiving now on social media. After all, he did say then that there will be CCTVs already at the Terminal 3 or the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) “next year” — that’s this year, 2013.
This year — on December 20, at about 11am — there were still no CCTVs that could have helped identify the motorbike-riding killers who sprayed at least 17 bullets onto a Mindanao mayor who is an anti-drugs advocate, his wife, nephew and unsuspecting people who happen to also be standing at the arrival bay waiting for their ride home.
It was just but natural to ask why were there no security cameras installed at a premier international aviation facility at NAIA, the country’s main gateway. In this day and age, when CCTVs are ubiquitous in posh villages, malls, gyms, internet kiosks, even neighbourhood variety stores serving about a dozen customer a day, why doesn’t a public utility serving almost 10 million passengers a year have it? That question compounded the shock that the daylight killing of the mayor, a baby, and two others brought that Friday.
Rappler storified and reposted my video clip from the 2012 Roxas press conference a few hours after breaking the sad news. My clip shows Roxas answering a question about a NAIA-3 incident captured by an amateur video but not by NAIA-3’s official security cameras.
Watch it below:
He was explaining why there were no CCTV cameras that documented the ugly brawl between celebrities Claudine Barretto and Raymart Santiago, and TV personality Ramon Tulfo. That incident was tabloid quality, with 3 adults who couldn’t manage their bruised egos resorting to punching each other in full view of the other passengers at the baggage carousel area.
Visibly amused by the incident, Roxas tried to be witty: the “action” would have been captured on-cam “live…colored…even in 3-dimensional if you want to.” But that is, if the incident happened “next year” (2013).
Netizens immediately took him up to it last Friday. The year 2013 is about to end in a few days — and sadly, 4 have died at the same airport terminal — yet still no CCTVs at the NAIA-3. Never mind that he’s no longer the Transportation Secretary (Joseph Emilio Abaya took over his post at the department after Roxas moved to the Interior and Local Government department in October 2012). But it was he on that now-viral video smirking and joking about the paparazzi-like images the promised CCTVs could have delivered.
Should he bear the brunt for the lack of CCTVs when the brutal crime happened? No. It just so happened that it was he who made a specific promise in May 2012 on the delivery of the CCTVs this 2013. The video documented that.
To be fair, he was not the only government official who broke a promise regarding NAIA-3. Other transportation, tourism, finance officials — as well as presidents Benigno Aquino III and Gloria Arroyo — have vowed to make NAIA-3 “fully operational” by this or that year. None came true — not even President Aquino’s State of the Nation promise in 2012 that the entire terminal will be up and running by the time he delivered his speech in July 2013.
These officials were confronted with questions and follow-ups regarding getting the entire NAIA-3 building, not just 55% of it, functional. It’s a task that involves structural works on the building, as well as the installation and upgrade of 23 airport systems. The CCTVs are one of the 23 items — and it was only Roxas who was asked specifically about it because he was the transport chief when the celebrity brawl happened. It was only Roxas who has a reply — on record — specifically about the lack of CCTVs.
Nonetheless, I think he deserves some of the blame.
One of his mandates from Aquino when he was transport chief was to solve the NAIA-3 mess. While he had a short stint at the agency (from July 2011 to September 2012), he was not coming in from the cold. The legal, financial and structural mess that is NAIA-3 is not new to him, having been involved in some of the Arroyo government efforts way back in 2002/3 to reach a commercial solution with the consortium of Piatco, its German partner-turned-foe Fraport AG, and their Japanese terminal builder or general contractor Takenaka. The build-operate-transfer contract of the group, which won the right to build and operate NAIA-3, was nullified by the Arroyo government in 2012 — a decision the Supreme Court later affirmed.
At that May 2012 press conference, he had something going for him. He also subtly reminded the reporters that the NAIA-3’s woes were inherited from the Arroyo administration, or when the legal and structural issues besetting the NAIA-3 originated.
He went on to talk about the solution others before him have similarly pursued: negotiating directly with Takenaka, which already knows the building in and out, to complete, retrofit, and update the unfinished airport terminal in span of time shorter than another contractor would take. He sounded confident about the “solution” since about two months before – in March 2012 — he has led a team that went to Japan to sign a(nother) document — a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – with Takenaka to make the NAIA-3 fully operational by “late 2012” or “early 2013.”
That MOU was essentially just a piece of paper saying the two parties agree to further pursue their negotiations over murky issues, including the scope of work, costs and warranties. That paper wasn’t a go signal yet that the 6 to 8-month-long wait for the NAIA-3 completion works has started. But given the timing of the Barretto-Santiago-Tulfo brawl in May, mentioning the March MOU with Takenaka came handy.
And just like many of the projects he handled — or caused the delay of, as his critics point out — the Takenaka completion works contract remained unsigned by the time he was called to take over the Interior and Local Government portfolio when Jesse Robredo died in a plane crash. The transition to Abaya meant more delays. Abaya, a political ally of Roxas and Aquino, was coming in from the cold as far as the NAIA-3 issues were concerned.
The final deal with Takenaka was sealed only in August 2013. Work on getting the NAIA-3 “fully operational” started only in November 2013. By the time the Mindanao mayor and 3 others were gunned down a month after, putting up at least two dozen airport systems, which include the CCTV security cameras, is already in the contractor’s must-do list. I wouldn’t be surprised if Takenaka’s priority is to ensure that the core building itself is structurally fit before the peripherals — the CCTV, flight information display systems, air condition units, telephone and baggage systems and more — are attended to. That’s how most prudent contractors usually go about their projects.
The December 20 crime brings a nagging question: Why did Roxas, Abaya and the others before him focus only on a Takenaka deal when they could have just bought security cameras in the interim? Prudent leaders who understand security risks would do that, pointed the netizens. Why allow a security gap go unattended for years? Yes, there are legal woes that beset the terminal project but years of non-action over a security risk already exposed by a previous celebrity brawl should have stirred leaders in positions of influence, like Roxas and his deputies, to think of solutions outside-the-box.
Pursuing long and winding talks with Takenaka meant staying the course of what is legal, as well as the less costly one. but it also made him vulnerable to today’s blame game. The death of the 4 highlighted the risk exposures of taking the road the others have also travelled.
While I understand that bundling the CCTVs with the other airport systems in the Takenaka package is because NAIA-3 was designed to be ran in an integrated fashion, as most modern airports are, the airport agency (the MIAA) has already been bypassing that design since 2008, when NAIA-3 was partly opened after years of non-use. For example, the baggage system, which is supposed to ensure passengers’ bags are sent to the right plane at the tarmac, is manually operated. The assignment of gates and check-in counters also bypass central control, which only Takenaka has access to.
Getting interim CCTVs while access to that central control is being ironed out does not require brains of Einstein. It just need proactive, future-thinking leaders who are not so caught up in the past.
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.