Ombudsman orders dismissal of ex-MIAA chief for grave abuse of authority

Lance Spencer Yu

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Ombudsman orders dismissal of ex-MIAA chief for grave abuse of authority

MIAA CHIEF. Cesar Chiong, General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, attends the Senate probe on the alleged human smuggling incident at the NAIA, on February 21, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Office of the Ombudsman says Cesar Chiong broke rules by reassigning 285 employees to different departments, but Chiong argues that his predecessors did the same ‘without facing any legal repercussion’

MANILA, Philippines – Former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) head Cesar Chiong, who weathered two crippling power outages at the country’s main airport earlier this year, is now facing a dismissal order by the Ombudsman.

This comes after the Office of the Ombudsman found Chiong and MIAA assistant general manager Irene Montalbo guilty of grave misconduct, abuse of authority, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The two officials were initially placed under preventive suspension more than three months ago after “anonymous MIAA officials” filed complaints against them. Chiong and Montalbo were accused of reassigning about 285 MIAA employees in less than a year, a process which began just a month after the MIAA chief assumed his position on July 20, 2022. 

Both Chiong and Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista – who invited Chiong to take the position – defended the reassignment, which he said were crucial in improving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) operations and finances. 

But the Ombudsman decided otherwise, stating that moving the MIAA employees to different positions “constitute willful disregard of the rules on reassignment and designation as laid down by the Civil Service Commission.”

“A number of employees, if not all, were transferred to a division/department or designated to a position where they have no knowledge or experience and could not very well function in a manner that the said division /department needs or the position calls,” said the Ombudsman, citing for instance how an electrical engineer from the electric division was reassigned as a manager of the airport police department.

‘Transparent and honest management’

Meanwhile, Chiong explained that the majority of the reassignments – 201 of the 285 personnel – were transferred to the airport police department to meet the security needs of NAIA’s terminals. These were all supposedly recommended by the Airport Police Department chief and Assistant General Manager for Security and Emergency Services.

In a statement, Chiong said that his predecessors “had reassigned even larger numbers of personnel without facing any legal repercussion.” He cited the decisions of former MIAA general managers Jose Angel Honrado, who reassigned 646 employees; and Eddie Monreal, who reassigned 397 employees.

The former MIAA chief had filed a petition with the Court of Appeals before the Ombudsman issued the dismissal order. About 800 airport personnel have also signed a manifesto in support of the two dismissed officials, which stated that “only now have they experienced transparent and honest management in the agency.”

Chiong also claimed that his time as MIAA general manager “paved the way for the financial stability of MIAA.”

“The Authority is now debt-free and its cash balance, which stood at P5 billion in July 2022, has now surged to approximately P15 billion,” a statement from Chiong read, which also highlighted MIAA’s return to profitability in 2022, hitting an income of P1.9 billion.

Chiong’s stint leading NAIA was also marred by technical glitches and power outages that crippled the airport on two major holidays. The failure of air traffic management equipment on New Year’s Day disrupted the flights of more than 78,000 passengers. Another power outage left around 9,000 passengers stranded on Labor Day, just a day before the Ombudsman’s suspension order was made public. 

NAIA, which is managed by MIAA, has long been hounded by controversies – from being named the worst business class airport in the world to facing multiple complaints of passenger theft by security screening officers

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.