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Someone must be liable for New Year's Day airspace shutdown –Pimentel

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Friday insisted that someone must be held accountable for the Philippines airspace shutdown last January 1.

The lawmaker made the statement after the Senate Public Service Committee did not include any recommendations to file criminal or administrative charges against any officials or employees in its report on the New Year’s Day shutdown investigation.

“We will follow the evidence. If there is no criminal liability, then walang kakasuhan ng criminal, but don’t tell me na walang administrative liability. Meron din naman siguro,” Pimentel said in an online interview.

“Since merong nangyari and it’s a very simple failure ng isang electrical equipment, which can be maintained kung may system in place, therefore, there must have been negligence to the point that there is no system in place, a foolproof system, or may system in place, hindi naman sinusunod, on paper lamang. So dapat meron pa rin tayong pinananagot sa nangyaring fiasco noong January 1,” he explained.

The lawmaker added that it was foolish to replace equipment in the communications, navigation, and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) systems without the proper maintenance procedures in place.

“Ang masakit dito kung ang proposal e bili lang ng bili... ng equipment, tatlong levels ng equipment yon e, ang ginagawa nila bili na lang ng bili pagtapos walang maintenance at wala ring nakatutok. Eh naglolokohan lang po tayo dito,” he said.

Last Tuesday, Senator Grace Poe sponsored the committee report on the January 1 airspace shutdown investigation held by the Senate Public Services Committee.

In its report, the committee ruled out sabotage and a cyberattack, and attributed the incident to a power outage because of several equipment malfunctions prior and during the incident, particularly the uninterruptible power supply, the circuit breaker, and the automatic voltage regulator.

“The malfunctioning of these three equipment was worsened by several underlying issues that all aligned on New Year’s Day and ultimately led to a system failure. Kumbaga sa sakit, may underlying medical condition na ang pasyente at nagkaroon na ng maraming komplikasyon kaya namatay ito,” Poe said.

Among these underlying issues are the lack of engineering standards and guidelines for the maintenance and troubleshooting of the equipment, absence of system evaluation for the CNS/ATM, and the non-compliance of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines with the energy audit, which is a requirement under the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.

Likewise, the panel found that there was no proper personnel training and a lack of electrical engineers to monitor the system.

The panel also included in its report CAAP’s poor compliance with the audit observations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which Poe said, contributed to the failure of the system.

According to the Senate public services panel chairperson, the Philippines only scored 45.28%, which is lower than the 65% global average.

Currently, Poe said the CAAP is expediting the construction of another CNS/ATM facility which will serve as the main facility, while the existing facility will be designated as a backup.

While the Senate panel identified the cause of the airspace shutdown, it did not recommend any criminal or administrative charges against officials and employees.

“When I began the investigation on this matter, I stressed that the committee will adopt a non-punitive direction because our primary goal right now is public safety. Accountability will follow after we’ve laid down safety measures for our air passengers,” Poe said in her sponsorship speech.

The Senate panel recommended the following “preventive and corrective actions” to the procedures and protocols of CAAP:

  • Urgent replacement and upgrading of critical equipment,
  • Sufficient engineering guidelines and training of accredited engineers should be rolled out,
  • Setting up of another Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) in an independent location,
  • Passage of the proposed Philippine Transportation Safety Board Act, Philippine Airports Authority Act, Air Passengers Bill of Rights,
  • Amend the CAAP Charter,
  • Fast-track the feasibility studies on the proposed Ninoy Aquino International Airport privatization, and
  • Assist CAAP for its immediate compliance to the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

“The January 1 "systems failure" was indeed a confluence of factors and errors. Experts likened it to the planets aligning albeit with an unfortunate consequence. Bihira pero alam nating posibleng mangyari ito, at patuloy na mangyayari kung wala tayong gagawin sa mga problema ng air traffic system sa bansa,” she said.

In a statement Thursday, Poe explained that “there is still accountability to be exacted.”

However, Poe said to focus only on accountability would make the issue into “another political circus that is counterproductive to our air safety efforts.”

“To turn this solely into a witch hunt would further drive away the decreasing number of technical air personnel that chose to stay in the country to serve. Accountability follows, and definitely, not cast aside,” she said. — DVM, GMA Integrated News