NAIA’s leadership crisis: MIAA staff, business sector rally behind dismissed execs

Lance Spencer Yu

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

NAIA’s leadership crisis: MIAA staff, business sector rally behind dismissed execs

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

Turbulence at the airport? Now that bidding for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s rehabilitation is underway, the sudden changes in its top brass might just make the road to a better airport more bumpy

Just as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is gearing up for its massive multibillion makeover, the airport management now has to weather a shake-up in its leadership – one that’s already spurred hundreds of its employees – and even prominent business groups – to rally behind the dismissed top executives.

In a move that surprised many, the Ombudsman recently ordered the dismissal of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Cesar Chiong and assistant general manager Irene Montalbo. MIAA is the agency that manages the country’s main international airport.

The crux of the complaints centered on the reassignment of 285 MIAA employees within a year of Chiong’s term, which the Ombudsman deemed a “willful disregard of the rules on reassignment and designation” established by the Civil Service Commission.

But now, MIAA employees and some of the country’s top business groups are swearing by the “exemplary work” done by the airport executives and appealing that the Ombudsman reconsider that decision.

And now that bidding for NAIA’s rehabilitation is underway, the sudden changes in its top brass might just make the road to a better airport more bumpy.

While Chiong and Montalbo may have been dismissed by the Ombudsman, a manifesto obtained by Rappler shows they still have the support of hundreds of airport employees. The document – addressed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ombudsman Samuel Martines and written before the decision came out – called on Martires to “issue a speedy and just resolution of the case.”

And while the Ombudsman’s decision was indeed speedy, MIAA personnel might not find the resolution of the case “just” – as they had expected.

“We, the undersigned MIAA officers and employees, manifest our heartfelt and full support to our beloved general manager Cesar Chiong and Irene Montalbo who were unjustly accused by an anonymous complainant,” the document read.

Under Chiong, the employees said that they have “seen the best of MIAA,” highlighting the following:

  • Increasing collections of concessionaires’ unpaid obligations through the “persistence and firmness of Ma’am Irene Puruganan-Montalbo’s finance department
  • Improving policies in terms of passenger comfort and experience, such as removing the initial security checkpoint at the departure areas
  • Streamlining the promotion and selection process to fill up MIAA’s vacant plantilla positions
  • Approving the increase in salaries of contracted manpower service personnel
  • Assigning MIAA officials back to their respective plantilla positions

The manifesto also said that Chiong assigned new officials to positions that “as a general manager’s prerogative, he thinks could help him attain his objectives towards an improved agency in terms of finance, operations, and security matters.”

“They have given MIAA a new face and a new direction…. We need a GM that listens to the people, sees the problem without political motivation, [one who is] a general manager for the people,” it read.

The document obtained by Rappler was signed by around 800 MIAA employees, with the list of signatories running for 25 pages.

So why did the Ombudsman dismiss Chiong?

Chiong took over MIAA at the invitation of Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, both of whom worked for years together in Philippine Airlines. A month after entering office, Chiong began reassigning employees to different departments, which he said, was part of an “effort to improve airport operations” and its financial standing.

Then just a day after NAIA was crippled by another power outage, an order from the Ombudsman placing Chiong under preventive suspension became public.

“Sworn statements gathered from the reassigned employees would reveal that they were neither informed of the reason for their reassignment nor did they have pending administrative complaints,” the order read.

After the order came out, Bautista defended the embattled ex-airport chief, saying that he himself asked Chiong to “professionalize it” and reassign staff based on their competencies. Chiong, too, said he was confident of “being vindicated and cleared in the end.”

But about three months later, the Ombudsman decided that the reassignment broke the rules.

“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.

In a statement made after the dismissal order came out, Chiong explained that most of the reassignments involved moving personnel to the airport police department to bolster the security in NAIA’s terminals. 

Chiong also drew parallels with his predecessors, noting that they had also made large-scale reassignments “without legal repercussions.”

What about the business sector?

But it’s not just airport employees that are rallying behind Chiong; it’s the business community too.

In a joint statement released last August 25, a group of business organizations proclaimed support for the dismissed MIAA executives. Among the “substantial positive changes” cited by the business groups is the agency’s improved cash balance which tripled – from P5 billion before Chiong took over to the current P15 billion.

Under Chiong’s guidance, MIAA also returned to profitability, earning P1.9 billion in 2022 – a marked turnaround from the P3.6 billion in combined losses during 2020 and 2021.

“Mr. Chiong and Ms. Montalbo have exhibited exemplary work as managers of the airport,” the statement read. “Dismissing them for implementing what is a normal management practice may send the wrong message that instituting reforms in government is hazardous to one’s career…. So, we appeal to the Ombudsman, please reverse this decision.”

The joint statement was issued by the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.; Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines; IT & Business Process Association Philippines; Integrity Initiative; Justice Reform Initiative; Makati Business Club; and Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc.

How will this affect NAIA?

This is a busy time for the airport as NAIA is set to finally begin the long process of rehabilitation and privatization. In fact, the 170.6-billion private-public partnership project has just opened for bidding.

The Department of Transportation is now courting private sector partners – who will likely form a consortium made up of the country’s biggest conglomerates – to take on the massive contract. And while the roadshows kick off, the airport’s general manager will be expected to join the discussions.

“The GM – or the OIC – is an important source of information for the government and bidders, and signs off on operational and commercial issues in the concession agreement,” Makati Business Club executive director Francisco Alcuaz Jr. told Rappler.

But ever since Chiong’s preventive suspension and subsequent dismissal, MIAA senior assistant general manager Bryan Co has had to step up as the officer-in-charge of the country’s main airport – one that’s not exactly in the best shape in the first place. (READ: [Vantage Point] Underspending left NAIA to rot)

“It was helpful that Mr. Chiong just had a lot of experience in the space and an already good working relationship with Sec. Bautista. But we understand that the OIC, Bryan Co, is very able, so we are hopeful the privatization, which is about to go on a roadshow, will go smoothly,” Alcuaz said.

Co has already had to manage the fallout from another power outage that struck NAIA Terminal 3 – the third major power disruption to the airport this year after the New Year’s Day air traffic fiasco and Labor Day power outage. He was also part of the recent transportation budget hearing that stretched for nearly 14 hours.

After dismissing some of the airport’s most well-respected officials, where will NAIA go from here? 

Must Watch

Rappler Talk: The Philippines’ transport woes

Rappler Talk: The Philippines’ transport woes


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Clothing, Sleeve, Person


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.