Jarius Bondoc | Philstar.com | November 21, 2016

Transport Sec. Art Tugade is under fire from air, sea, land, and railways. Revamping the department, he had placed undersecretaries for each of those transport sectors. In just four months in office they have managed to antagonize the stakeholders in each one. Businessmen, service providers, and transport commuters are up in arms. The backfire naturally is on Tugade as top man. His congressional confirmation has been put on hold, as administration lawmakers await signals from Malacañang. For, President Rodrigo Duterte has declared he would hold his Cabinet men answerable for misdeeds of their subordinates.

At the premiere Manila International Airport the general aviation outfits are in chaos. Consisting of jet charters, maintenance, and "fish runs" of fresh catch from the provinces, they are being made to vacate their hangars within four months. No consultations were held, or relocation sites given, the Federation of Aviation Organizations (Fedavor) cries. Tugade signed the eviction mid-Oct. on the wrong premise that his Undersecretary for Air Joseph Lim and MIA general manager Ed Monreal had worked out the details.

The supposition is that eviction would unclog the MIA runways by 22 percent. Yet that's factually unfounded. The Civil Aviation Authority, also under Lim, reports that jet charters make up only one percent of daily runway traffic. Helicopter runs, two percent of flights, do not count since they do not use runways and fly way below the fixed-wing aircraft. But Tugade has swallowed the wrong figures. He will now have to magic a 22-percent runway decongestion by removing the small jets that account for only one percent. A void would be left, the Fedavor warns. Commercial airlines flying out of MIA serve only 44 of the 86 government airports nationwide, while general aviation flies to all. Covered by jet charters are not only the 42 unserved by the biggies but also private airstrips. Kicked out of the MIA, there will be no more such air coverage.

There's another controversy at the MIA. Tugade has called in the Marines and Army commandoes to take over the ground security. That's in addition to the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group (ASG) already in charge, plus the Dept. of Transport's Office of Transport Security baggage screeners, the MIA police force, and the many private security agency guards hired by airlines, duty-free shops, and other private concessionaires. The presence of soldiers with assault rifles would make the airport look like a militarized zone and scare passengers, travel and tour operators worry. But that does not seem to bother Lim and Monreal.

Incidentally the two were weighed and found wanting recently, airline operators murmur. That was when a Saudia plane reportedly was hijacked en route to the MIA. Though much later turning out to be a false alarm, it was a test for security procedures. Yet at the height of the emergency Monreal failed to activate a crisis management team, per MIA manual and international guidelines. That body would have directed the jetliner to a secluded corner of the airport, where the PNP-ASG would have taken over the situation, away from prying news cameras and onlookers. As it happened, the aircraft stopped near the usual concourse, unloaded the passengers at the tarmac, with the unauthorized Lim directing the show.

In the sea transport sector the issue of an overstaying commandant rocks the Coast Guard, an anti-graft group laments. Certain regional port officials reportedly are lobbying for the contracting of notorious kickback-paying constructors. Inspectors continue to let ship owners heighten the Plimsoll marks, to make the vessels look capable of loading tens of thousands more tons of weight -- the cause of fatal capsizing in rough waters. Rackets in seafarer licensing has yet to be eradicated, overseas and domestic recruiters aver.

In the land sector Tugade and subalterns have yet to clean up the messes left behind by predecessor Joseph Abaya. The shortage of vehicle metal plates and plastic drivers’ licenses continues, along with the muddled registration database. Criminality thrives on the inability of lawmen to identify getaway vehicles and drivers. Traffic worsens by the day in Mega Manila, Metro Cebu, and Davao City. Senators and congressmen are incensed that Tugade’s factotums are asking for emergency powers for Duterte to solve the traffic, yet they have no detailed plans to back up their estimated P1.3 trillion in intended infrastructure spending.

Deteriorating railways are adding to the problem. Undersecretary for Rail and Tollways Noel Kintanar is letting the crooked maintenance contractors get away with non-replacement of crucial spare parts, documents show. He is also about to increase highway tolls in Luzon. Transport woes will worsen as the Christmas peak season nears.