U.S. says NAIA security measures inadequate – envoy

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that the Philippines' Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is implementing inadequate security measures, the Philippines' ambassador said.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez wrote in a Philippine Star column on Sunday, December 23, that the DHS will send a notice about "security issues" at NAIA after a 90-day assessment done by the DHS' Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

"DHS has determined that the security measures implemented at NAIA are not adequate as dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and will continue to closely monitor the security situation at the airport as well as coordinate with MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority) and OTS (Office for Transportation Security) regarding next steps to include development and implementation of corrective actions, and scheduling of additional security assessments," Romualdez said. 

He did not specify what "corrective actions" the DHS will make. Rappler is still trying to reach the US embassy for confirmation as of posting time.

Romualdez said the Philippines assured US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in a recent meeting, "that we are working round the clock to address the issues that have been raised, among them the need to install standalone audible alarm systems in emergency doors, calibrating walk-through metal detectors and the purchase of equipment that include X-ray machines and explosive detection systems."

He also met with DHS and TSA officials at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC, "and assured them that our Transportation Secretary Art Tugade will continue to implement corrective measures, and is monitoring their progress on a day-to-day basis to make sure that every concern – even the smallest one – is addressed."

The DOTr's side: In a statement on Wednesday, December 26, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) confirmed that the TSA "conducted an assessment and gave recommendations regarding airport security enhancement and improvements."

The DOTr said it is already in the process of purchasing X-ray machines, walk-through metal detectors, and alarm systems, "but this will take time because the items are not off-the-shelf and will require lead time for manufacturing and delivery."

These equipment would be installed by the 2nd quarter of 2019. In the meantime, the DOTr said, Tugade ordered the hiring of additional security guards.

The TSA also recommended the following, according to the DOTr:

The DOTr gave an assurance that authorities are "giving utmost priority and attention to the implementation of strict security measures" at NAIA.

GMA News had reported on Wednesday about the supposed DHS advisory on NAIA, which is now going viral on social media.

"Passengers are advised that the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined that Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila, Republic of the Philippines, does not maintain and carry out effective aviation security measures," the reported advisory said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.