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Lawmakers call for joint House-Senate probe into Naia air traffic control snafu

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A lawmaker on Wednesday said the recent air traffic control fiasco at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) clearly signals the need to separate the regulatory and commercial functions of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), even as other legislators pressed for a joint House and Senate probe in the incident.

Northern Samar First District Rep. Paul R. Daza issued the statement as around 300 flights were affected due to power outage at the Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC) of CAAP on New Year’s Day, affecting more than 65,000 passengers.

“We are assured that an investigation is already being done, however that is also problematic because it’s the same agency investigating its own,” the lawmaker noted.

CAAP was created through An Act Creating the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Authorizing the Appropriation of Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes (RA 9497 of 2008). Its functions include both commercial and regulatory functions, potentially creating conflict of interests according to Daza.

“Many have already spoken and, most likely, everyone is right. There seems to be negligence but the more critical question is, ‘How can we ensure objectivity in the investigation if CAAP is the one investigating itself?’” Daza asked.

Section 21 of RA 9497 stipulates that CAAP is tasked with both the “development and utilization of the air potential of the Philippines” and “regulation of air transportation…” It also enjoys fiscal autonomy (Section 15) and exemption from taxes, customs, and tariff duties in the importation of equipment, machineries, and other materials.

“We could no longer afford another similar incident; thousands of lives had been put at risk and will be put at risk if this should ever happen again,” the Daza cautioned.

He also called on his colleagues in Congress to hold a joint investigation along with the Senate to get clear answers. Section 91 of RA 9497 stipulates the oversight functions by both houses of Congress.

“The government needs to create an impartial body that will conduct an investigation on what really happened—this body should not be within CAAP,” Daza recommended. He also recommended the immediate review and possible amendment of RA 9497.

Daza further detailed that reforming the CAAP will require filing of certain bills to ultimately and officially decouple the regulatory and developmental functions of the agency. “The CAAP must be enhanced to focus on being a regulatory body, while two other operational and independent investigative agencies must be created to perform the mentioned functions. The same also needs to be applied to maritime regulatory agencies such as the PPA [Philippine Ports Authority],” he explained.

“This is a wake-up call. In an archipelagic country where air- and sea-based travel is critical to growth, we can’t be this complacent and worse, be left behind,” Daza added.

The Philippines’ Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system is a P10.8-billion project financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and completed in October 2017. CAAP’s Aerodrome and Air Navigation Safety Oversight Office was assigned to investigate the incident.

Also, Deputy Minority Leader Bernadette Herrera on Wednesday called on the Senate and House of Representatives to conduct a joint investigation on the recent air traffic control service outage at Naia.

Herrera said an incident as massive as this service outage at Naia air traffic control deserves a joint Senate and House investigation.

“The service outage affected not just passengers but also many tons of cargo, incoming and outgoing, and this has lingering effects on businesses and the economy,” she said.

“We need to see the authenticated copies of all maintenance logs, personnel logs, and CCTV logs of all the outage-affected equipment,” she added.

Herrera said lawmakers are particularly interested whether the many lightning storms these past months affected any of the facilities and equipment involved in the service outage.

“Better physical security measures might also be needed at critical Naia facilities,” she suggested.

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