Friday, November 21, 2008

Philippines - MIAA can't prove 'security lapses'

I Found this little Gem by  Jarius Bondoc Updated November 21, 2008 12:00 AM

Manila International Airport Authority came out with guns blazing at me in Wednesday’s Letter to the Editor — toy guns, that is. Atty. Melvin Matibag, head assistant, inexpertly tried to debunk my column of Nov. 12 about their squeeze play on a private firm. Stern but shallow language.

My article was about MIAA’s moves to force out the private Security & Safety Corp.-Philippines. SSCP has been providing security services to foreign airlines for decades, with ten client-airlines at present. MIAA has taken interest in the lucrative business, for an influential person. Instead of vying for the airlines’ attention, it is employing foul means.

Last Sept. MIAA deputy Angel Atutubo announced from out of the blue the impending repeal of SSCP’s accreditation as NAIA concessionaire. Meaning, SSCP guards may no longer enter airport premises to secure the counters, gates and hangars of its client-airlines. Atutubo claimed without showing proof that SSCP had committed many security breaches.

Tony Maniwang, SSCP president, learned about it only from a news bit in The STAR. Writing Atutubo, he asked what was up for he’d never been told of SSCP’s supposed lapses. In the habit of his DOTC bosses of flouting the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Anti-Red Tape Law, Atutubo did not find decency to reply. Then on Nov. 5 Matibag summoned the clients to a meeting that same day on the bar on SSCP starting 2009. Six came to hear his unsubstantiated badmouthing; two protested that they be left to hire the security firm of their choice.

Next day Maniwang again wrote Atutubo pleading for due process such as a formal investigation before canceling his permit. Still no response, although Atutubo was just somewhere at the airport trying to justify his abduction of Jun Lozada in Feb. Only on Nov. 11 did Matibag, not Atutubo, finally correspond with Maniwang. Apart from mentioning a “consolidated derogatory report,” he gave no details, of SSCP’s supposed “malpractices”.

Then a Japanese passenger was caught on Nov. 8 trying to sneak out P1 million at NAIA. The smuggler cried that airport cops directly under Atutubo manning baggage x-rays — not any of the private airline guards — mauled him inside the toilet to steal the cash. Newsmen got wind of it only because the guy filed a complaint. Atutubo’s men had been accused in the past of international white slavery, extorting from outbound workers, and stealing from carry-on bags. One of the latest modus was inserting bullets into the bags of aged passengers, then demanding grease money to drop charges.

In his letter, Matibag tried in vain to belie my story. He claimed that SSCP engages in human smuggling, extortion and “baggage fixing”, whatever that is. Supposedly SSCP’s airline clients lose revenues and their security is imperiled. “We can sustain these claims, if it warrants,” he said emptily.

Any good lawyer would present evidence to bolster his arguments. Matibag should have attached official reports, if any, of SSCP’s alleged faults and let the documents speak for themselves. He didn’t. When an aide e-mailed me Matibag’s letter Monday, I immediately asked her to tell him to give proof. What he sent back was an unsigned “consolidated derogatory report” that lists supposed infractions by SSCP guards, but no investigation details. (He gave no explanation of the new crime of baggage fixing, which in plain English simply means repairing broken suitcases.)

It was Maniwang who gladly dug up from his files old memos from MIAA cops about the supposed breaches in the “consolidated report”. He was confident these were far from “derogatory”. Most, in the cops’ own words, were nothing more than their mistaken suspicions of wrongdoings. In each case, though, they either warned the SSCP guard or took back his NAIA access pass for a week as punishment. SSCP took it all in stride as part of business hassles. Little did Maniwang suspect these would one day be used to make his security firm look like a fiend and kicked out of NAIA.

Meantime, Matibag might chew on real documentary evidence. His letter made it look like SSCP’s ten client-airlines are blaming it for losses. Well, six of them have issued certifications of SSCP’s satisfactory work. Eva Air, Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Asiana Airlines did so in late Sept. upon learning of Atutubo’s dark designs. Saudi Arabian Airlines and Singapore Airlines followed suit after my exposé came out. The staff of the four others has informed their overseas bosses of MIAA’s plan to monopolize security services. They worry that no one will secure them once SSCP guards are disaccredited.

There’s more. Matibag also wrote: “Be informed further that approval of accreditation of NAIA’s security provider is not the sole responsibility of MIAA but also of the PNP-Aviation Security Group.” Well, it’s he who must be informed: on Nov. 7 the PNP-ASG too issued a certification of SSCP’s good conduct. Chief Insp. Romeo Desiderio, as head of the ASG’s Security Agencies and Guards Supervision Branch, stated: “This is to certify that SSCP has no pending administrative case filed with this office as of this date. No SSCP private security personnel have been involved in any illegal activities within our AOR. No complaint has been filed in this office against the subject private security agency as of this date.” What does that make of the criminality claimed by Atutubo and Matibag? How come they haven’t reported to the real police?

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