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Senate sets CAAP fiasco hearing; Zubiri sees serious security risks

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SENATE President Miguel Zubiri signaled readiness to actively participate in the Senate Public Services Committee inquiry on Thursday into the New Year’s aviation fiasco involving the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), that paralyzed air traffic control and navigation systems, disrupting nearly 300 flights and stranding 65,000 passengers.

The Senate President lamented, “it does not give us a good picture of our country and so we are having a hearing Thursday,” to be presided by Senator Grace Poe, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on  Public Services.

For her part, Poe said, “While I preside over the hearing, we are keen to learn what really happened?”

“Was it lack of equipment? Or was it a sabotage, as that is also a possibility?” she added.

Poe added her initial reaction was it could be “a sabotage,” adding: “That was my first instinct and if it was incompetence then people should be fired.”

Senate President Zubiri agreed with Poe, saying at the Manila Bay forum Wednesday it could also be due to “kapalpakan” (incompetence), indicating that if that caused it, those at fault should be kicked out.

“Imagine, if that were true, that the wrong switches were applied, that is crazy, is it not?” Zubiri asked, partly in Filipino, referring to the mind-boggling excuse given that a faulty circuit breaker led to greater damage to vital equipment, instead of resolving the instant crisis.

He added: “Kapalpakan ‘yon [That was incompetence], and we have to look into that, so that it will never happen again and let’s get properly trained individuals to handle this because it’s also a national security risk mga kababayan ko [my countrymen].”

Zubiri stressed, “This is a national security risk, meaning, our potential enemies now know that if they want to create trouble, they can simply trifle with a switch, and no airplane can fly over the entire Philippines. Not like before, [when] there was redundancy: when there was a similar situation in NAIA where a radar is knocked out in Luzon, planes can still land in Visayas and Davao in the south. You can still land in Visayas, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, in Davao, you can divert the flights because before it was never centralized.”

The senator also wants to raise that question at the hearing on Thursday: “I do not know who is the genius that decided to centralize it to Metro Manila. Before, apparently, I was told by former pilots I had talked to, it was spread out into three main islands—Luzon, Visayas at Mindanao—so that if there’s a problem in NAIA you can divert to other parts of the Philiuppines. But now, none—you’ll have a  total blackout over the Philippines and if there’s an invading force it is very easy for them to switch that off and there will be no planes flying on our skies, for them to quickly and easily enter the Philippine airspace, right?”

Zubiri said he will also raise security questions at the Thursday hearing of Poe’s panel. “[The question] I will ask also tomorrow is, is our AFP ready for an eventual happening such as that? Do we have, does the air force have their own backup system? Do they have their own programs for monitoring the skies? Because it will be, I would say a mortal sin, that if the civilian flights such as what had happened in January 1, are canceled or all those systems break down, that our air force as well cannot fly. They should have a backup system where our air force can fly and protect our skies.”

He added: “So that’s many question, because this is of course a risk to our country and it is important that we have to see their system. How the system  is being operated and how we can rectify the situation of January 1. It is really an issue on national defense, it is a national security issue as well.”

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