Bomb sniffing dogs at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. photo by Niño Jesus Orbeta

THE Philippine transportation department said it was committed to improving airport security measures after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a travel advisory on Wednesday, December 26, because aviation security at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was not up to par with international security standards.

“Aviation security at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), which serves as a last-point-of-departure airport for flights to the United States, does not maintain and carry out effective security consistent with the security standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),” the DHS said in its statement on Wednesday.

The DHS said that airlines issuing tickets for travel between the U.S. and NAIA were immediately directed to notify passengers in writing of the determination.  All U.S. airports offering regularly scheduled flights to Manila were also directed to prominently display the advisory which was also to be published in the Federal Register.

The DHS’ determination was based off assessments carried out by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security experts.

The Philippine Department of Transportation (DOTr) said in a statement issued Wednesday, December 26, that the Philippine government — through the department, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), and the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) — are “giving the utmost priority and attention to the implementation of strict security measures at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.”

The installation of new security equipment such as X-ray machines, walk-through metal detectors, and alarm systems, were among the recommendations by the TSA, the DOTr said. It said that the equipment are expected to be installed and used by the second quarter of 2019.

The DOTr added that Transportation Secretary Art Tugade gave direct instructions to carry out manual interventions such as the hiring of additional 24/7 MIAA-contracted guards while waiting for the new security equipment.

New background check procedures for newly hired airport personnel, a change in “security culture” among longtime NAIA personnel in the area of consistent implementation and observance of strict security procedures, and the submission of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances for all MIAA access pass holders, were also among other TSA recommendations.

“In this regard, re-trainings have been, and continue to be conducted to instill in every personnel he need to be consistent in every aspect of security,” the DOTr said.

The DHS said that the Department of State and the Department of Transportation have been coordinating with TSA representatives in working with the Philippine government to help airport and transportation authorities bring NAIA up to international security standards.

Security improvements

Last week, MIAA General Manager Ed Monreal told the Philippine government’s official news agency that management had already started security system improvements such as replacing single view x-ray machines with double view x-ray machines to comply with current international aviation standards.

Monreal earlier this month warned airline passengers to be vigilant against thieves and pickpockets, given the business of the airport during the holiday season.

Immigration Port Operations Division chief Grifton Medina also said last week that numerous electronic gates — meant to make the passenger entry process take only about eight to 15 seconds and reduce long queues at immigration counters — were installed in NAIA and other major Philippine airports in Cebu, Clark, and Davao this year.

Tightened security, technical system improvements, and leadership training for immigration officers were other things Medina said were of focus for Philippine airport improvements.

In the Wednesday statement following the U.S.’ determination, the Philippine DOTr said it was fully committed to improving NAIA.

“Rest assured that the government, the DOTr, the MIAA and the OTS are fully committed in employing all measures available to ensure the security and safety of the traveling public,” said the DOTr.. 

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