By Joe Zaldarriaga

Joe Zaldarriaga is a veteran, award-winning communicator immersed in public service within and beyond the energy sector. He has more than 30 years of experience serving the country’s biggest electric distribution utility and is involved in a number of public service functions, as member of various committees on public safety, power supply security and electrification. Concurrently, he is a prominent figure in the Philippine communications industry, as Chairman and Past President of the US-based International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC PH). He is also an awardee of the University of Manila’s Medallion of Honor (Dr. Mariano V. delos Santos Memorial) and a Scroll of Commendation, a testament to his celebrated years in public service exemplified by outstanding communications.
Joe also shares his opinion and outlook on relevant national and consumer issues as a columnist in several prominent publications and is now venturing into new media via hosting a new vlog called Cup of Joe. Previously, Joe was a reporter and desk editor of a Broadcasting Company and the former auditor of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines. A true green Lasalian, he finished with a degree in Asian Studies specializing in the Japan Studies program at De La Salle University, Manila, where he also spent his entire education.

At the peak of the Holy Week exodus, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) once again made headlines for the wrong reasons.

Travelers—many of whom are rushing for a reprieve from the hectic city life, or to be with their families for the break—had to endure the sweltering heat at the NAIA Terminal 2 on Holy Wednesday due to power fluctuations.

According to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), the problem was due to a high power load triggered by the high heat index outside of the terminal. Meralco clarified that there was no problem in terms of power supply which was confirmed by MIAA as well.

While operations in check-in counters, baggage handling systems, and security remained functional thanks to generators, it was not enough to power the air conditioners, thus the discomfort to travelers rushing on the eve of the Easter Triduum. The MIAA brought in industrial fans to ease travelers’ discomfort.

What makes the situation more disappointing is that the MIAA had repeatedly assured the public of the airport’s readiness for the expected influx of travelers for the Holy Week break. Over a million passengers were recorded by MIAA from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.

This is not the first time that the country’s main gateway was beset with problems during a crucial travel period. NAIA made international headlines on New Year’s Day 2023 after technical issues forced a shutdown of the Philippine airspace.

News reports in the days leading to the Holy Week break also highlighted new and old problems in NAIA. From bed bugs to rats at airport terminals, issues hounding the gateway highlight the fact that NAIA badly needs private sector intervention.

I share the view that public-private partnerships (PPPs) offer an effective way forward to addressing situations that require urgent attention and action for the collective benefit of the public. This is why the looming entry of a private consortium to manage and upgrade NAIA is a welcome development.

If any, the Holy Wednesday incident serves as a major challenge to the consortium led by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) to drastically improve the situation at the airport to deliver a well-deserved pleasant experience to our travelers. Hopes are high that NAIA will soon be at par with South Korea’s Incheon airport given that the latter’s operator is part of the consortium.

We Filipinos deserve better. Our visitors deserve better.

While we have yet to see how the SMC-led consortium will rise to the challenge, I am optimistic given the group’s commitment to invest over PHP122 billion for the NAIA modernization program within a period of 25 years.

In the case of NAIA, the private consortium is expected to bring the much-needed upgrades to airport services not only for the well-deserved convenience of our travelers but also to drive economic growth and improve the Philippines’ image and reputation to the international community.

By taking over the maintenance and management of the airport, the private sector effectively shares its wealth of resources, expertise, and experience to deliver quality essential services and projects to the public in the most effective and efficient way possible.

It must be noted that with PPPs, private sector investment is maximized for the collective benefit of the public. By relieving the government of airport maintenance and management costs, public funds can be allocated for other social services or projects that require additional financial support.

There are still a few months left before the private consortium comes in to manage NAIA and take over its problems as well. Until then, the current management should do its best to address recurring problems at the airport and respond better to difficult situations.