President Rodrigo Duterte’s preference to remove restaurants at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to make room for more seats is the government argument that passengers have priority over businesses, Malacañang said Wednesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the remarks after the President instructed Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Tuesday night to get rid of some restaurants at the country’s main gateway following reports of stranded passengers camping outside while waiting for their flights.
Roque said the President noticed there were not enough seats for passengers waiting for commercial flights.
“The mandate of the President yesterday (Tuesday) was no one should be left sleeping outside just because there’s not enough space in the airport. If need be, get rid of the commercial establishments because the priority should be the passengers and not the businesses,” he said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart.
Roque said the President recognized the need for passengers to also buy food while waiting for their flights but noted that seats at the NAIA were lacking.
“As much as possible, he wants more seat capacity so that the passengers won’t have to leave the airport facilities and go outside to wait for their flights,” he said.
Meanwhile, Roque said people stranded at airports were locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and not overseas Filipino workers who were immediately brought home to their respective provinces after undergoing quarantine and testing.
He said both LSIs and OFWs were qualified to receive assistance until their flights were ready to leave.
“The President’s order is to house them and to feed them and (Interior) Secretary (Eduardo) Año assured the President that ‘we are doing this’,” Roque said.
In a public address late Tuesday night, Duterte asked Tugade to remove some restaurants at the NAIA to make room for more seats for passengers, saying the thought of passengers standing while waiting for their flights bothered him.
The President also ordered Año to gather LSIs camping near NAIA and provide them with food and shelter as they wait for their flights.
The national government has begun assisting LSIs by bringing them to the Villamor Airbase Elementary School and the Philippine State College of Aeronautics to receive food and accommodation as they wait for available transportation.
The government earlier launched the “Hatid Tulong” program to assist LSIs stranded in Metro Manila due to travel restrictions imposed during the quarantine period.
Meanwhile, Tugade said they allowed LSIs to stay at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport but only those who already had plane tickets and confirmed flights.
In his surprise visit to NAIA terminal 3, Tugade explained not all LSIs were allowed to enter the airport for security reasons.
“We have to understand the situation here at the airport,” Tugade told reporters.
Tugade and Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal inspected terminal 3 and had a chance to talk with the LSIs who were complaining they had nowhere to go except at the airport while waiting for their flight schedule.
Concerned individuals and some airport officers provided LSIs food and water to drink.
Tugade’s visit followed Duterte’s statement Tuesday he noticed stranded individuals sleeping outside the NAIA buildings.
Duterte asked airport authorities to accommodate the LSIs for their security.
The Chief Executive also ordered the airport management to put more chairs for the convenience of air travelers.
Tugade said he immediately directed his men to buy additional chairs.
MIAA earlier imposed a policy prohibiting passengers to enter the airport without confirmed domestic flights.
It also reminded domestic air travelers not to go to NAIA unless they have confirmed flights to decongest the NAIA terminal that was earlier crowded with people hoping to go back to their home provinces.
The government’s ‘Balik-Probinsya’ program was temporarily suspended as it required all LSIs to undergo swab testing.
Also, local government units in the provinces have requested the national government to make sure all domestic passengers already subjected to COVID-19 swab test before letting them board a plane.
The country’s major airlines such as Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) and AirAsia resumed domestic operations on June 1 to serve the passengers with confirmed flights.
In the Senate, President ProTempore Ralph Recto warned if the pandemic-imposed air travel restrictions would continue, 60 percent cut on income of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport would bring down its gross revenues to P6.05 billion, and to P4.53 billion if it would be a deeper 70 percent reduction.
“The real payroll of NAIA is at least P3.3 billion a year, to include contracted services like security and others. Then, it has the water and power bill about P1.5 billion,” Recto said, citing the Corporate Operating Budget of the Manila International Airport Authority for Fiscal Year 2020.
“If this will just be taken from its current income, there can be shortage. It may have to dig into its reserves,” he said
He insisted that NAIA’s immediate problem was not its signage, but its bottomline, as travel lockdown might cut its 2020 revenues by as much as P10 billion—barely enough for the country’s gateway to keep payroll and the lights on.
On a forecast 3 percent increase in passenger traffic, the four-terminal airport was projecting a gross revenue of P15.43 billion this year.
MIAA’s “pre-COVID-19” income estimate for 2020 projected a P5.4 billion collection on passenger terminal fees, P4.1 billion on aeronautical fees, P2.8 billion on rentals, and the rest mostly on concessionaire fees.
“This year, it was expecting 21.7 million departing passengers, net of exempted individuals like OFWs, to pay the terminal fee. Then coronavirus landed, turning the airport into a ghost town,” he said.
“Last year, it handled 277,530 incoming and outgoing flights, but because of the pandemic, the airport has become a quieter place. No commercial flights, no fees,” Recto said.
Recto said even the airport’s income from car parking had taken a hit. With PNA