Senate CAAP probe and sacred cows

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

We are a people of short memories. Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo was assassinated in broad daylight by armed individuals using high-powered firearms and moving with some sense of tactical deployment indicative of experience and expertise in handling similar situations in the past. And yes, they turned out to be former soldiers with dishonorable discharges from the service. But that is another issue that can be taken up in the future.

The latest scandal will be covered by media for possibly two or three weeks and by that time another outrage shall capture our limited concentration. The main suspect in the Degamo killings is out of the country and is asking for two months’ leave from his duties at the House of Representatives. That is about the span of attention we have for even a shootout as brazen as the Degamo killing. He is hoping this is enough time for our memories to fade and to “move on.”

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More than a week ago, the Senate committee on public services chaired by Senator Grace Poe released its investigation report on the New Year blackout that saw the cancellation of over 300 domestic and international flights, with some 65,000 passengers stranded and unable to proceed to their respective destinations. This included thousands of tourists whose flights were either re-routed to other destinations or were diverted to their points of origin. This situation must have caused the nation the loss of millions of dollars in tourist revenues, as well as serious damage to the tourism program of the administration. If I were a tourist on one of those flights, it would possibly have meant my last attempt to reach the famed beaches and surfing destinations of the Philippines.

In spite of the initial cries of outrage – a national humiliation, an international embarrassment, a disgrace – nothing has really happened. No one has been held responsible, no one has been sacked, no one has tendered his resignation as would happen in some other countries after such an event took place. We have a different sense of honor and responsibility that is difficult to explain.

Just to refresh the minds of our people, let us start from the beginning. Immediately after the incident, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista declared, “Heads would roll! Aviation officials must be held accountable.” Perhaps, here we need to give Bautista some slack. Media was on his back, and the line did give him some mileage. Before I forget, the only head to roll, so to speak, was Arnold Balucating, head of the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS-ATM), who was forced to take a leave of absence from his position. The poor fellow would be the sacrificial lamb for those hungry for action and not just for words.

Next, the Undersecretary for Aviation and Airports of the Department of Transportation, Roberto Lim, announced that an “external investigation body” had been formed to conduct an independent probe of the fiasco. The CAAP was officially inhibited from participation in the investigation. Today no one knows what happened to this body. Who is its chairperson, as well as its members? What work has it done so far, and when is the expected date of completion of their report? Or, was the idea discontinued without any announcement?

The House of Representatives announced its own investigation but House committee on transportation (air, land and sea) chair Romeo Acop says that so far he has not received any directive from the committee on rules of the House for his committee to conduct its own inquiry of the incident “in aid of legislation.” Without any resolution being referred to his committee, Acop has no basis for any inquiry. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez made the observation that any investigation would be pointless if the present CAAP leadership does not go on leave for the duration of any probe. So far, all is quiet on the House front.

The Senate then carried out its own investigation of the New Year fiasco but media reports have caused more confusion than clarity. At the start of the Senate probe, both Senators Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros declared publicly that “CAAP cannot self-investigate.” And yet, it appears that CAAP did self-investigate, unhampered by any Senate restrictions. This was revealed by Senator Poe to media. Later, she was quoted as saying “the failure of past and present aviation and transportation officials to ensure proper maintenance of CAAP’s navigation system may be considered ‘incompetence or negligence on the part of CAAP…’”

But in its final report, the committee backtracked, deferring to “the current five officials of CAAP to undertake the administrative investigation for disciplinary action on the culpability of any of its personnel.” Only lower-level personnel are to be subjected to disciplinary action by the five wise men. Who are these five CAAP officials? What positions do they hold in CAAP?  How long have they been at their posts? Did the committee look into the technical and managerial experience of these five officials, particularly the leadership? As one observer noted, the fiasco was the result of “a high-level failure of leadership.” A quick look at the biodata of its leadership in a CAAP website would show how lacking is the technical and managerial competence needed to run an organization like the CAAP.

Perhaps, there is some truth in the observation of a number of decent and respected members of the business community that unfortunately, a few of our regulatory agencies have been “captured” by powerful and influential industry leaders. Their protegés, regardless of level of competence, once in position, become sacred cows, untouchable and answerable only to their patrons.

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