airports in the Philippines

[VANTAGE POINT] MIAA on the spotlight: Follies of the law

Val A. Villanueva

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

[VANTAGE POINT] MIAA on the spotlight: Follies of the law
Dismissed airport manager Cesar Chiong is widely respected in the business world, where honesty and competence are the most valued traits

Trabaho Party-list is calling on the public to show some support to Ombudsman Samuel Martires. It is saying that the business groups’ petition seeking to reverse the dismissal order against former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Cesar Chiong and his assistant Irene Montalbo is “clear interference in the independence and investigatory functions of the Ombudsman.”

It looks like Martires has been shaken by the overwhelming support that Chiong is getting from various business groups. I also got the same request from a friend, whom I’m not naming here, who sought for a “ceasefire,” whatever that means. 

I told my friend that the Ombudsman cannot prevent anyone from voicing opposition against the controversial decisions that Martires has made. These business groups are just practicing their constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. Martires, being a public servant, should not be too onion-skinned. He becomes fair game when he makes decisions that other individuals or groups find questionable or controversial. And why am I being asked to support something which is completely opposite my vantage point? 

What has Chiong done?

Martires issued orders in quick succession.

On April 28, he suspended Chiong and his deputy, Irene Montalbo. He turned the suspension four months later into termination, with the provision that henceforth the two officials, whose track records until that time had been spotless, are disqualified from holding any position in the government.

In contrast, the Ombudsman took a longer time to issue a resolution on the P10-billion Pharmally scam. It appears defective too. First, the charge became the lesser offense of graft, instead of plunder which is non-bailable. Second, the resolution spared the main culprit, Michael Yang, who was then-president Rodrigo Duterte’s economic advisor. Never mind that Duterte himself was said to have engineered the whole scheme. 

Must Read

DOTr secretary questions due process in Ombudsman’s suspension of MIAA head

DOTr secretary questions due process in Ombudsman’s suspension of MIAA head

In this country, only the small fry gets to be fried.

Chiong and Montalbo were suspended and later terminated “for grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to government service.”

As it turned out, the general manager and his deputy had reassigned 285 employees, clearly a management prerogative, but which constitutes “grave abuse of authority. . . .” to Martires’ mind. 

What does “conduct prejudicial to government service” mean in this context? Let us see what crime the two are alleged to have committed to fit that description.

Chiong’s accomplishments

Oh, yes! Barely two years in government service, Chiong and Montalbo managed to collect billions in MIAA receivables, making the agency debt-free at last. Under their stewardship, the agency’s cash balance surged from P5 billion in July 2022 to P15 billion today. It reported a P1.9 billion income in 2022, a turnaround from the P2.6 million losses in 2020.

MIAA certainly needs good management to cope with the challenges. The number of passengers went up from 7.8 million in 2021 to 31 million in 2022. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which falls under MIAA, expects 47 million passengers by the end of this year.

Chiong was able to accomplish the feat by streamlining operations which includes, among other things, placing employees where the agency can better use their experience and expertise to the fullest. By the way, more than 200 of the 286 reassigned personnel were members of the notorious Airport police, although the general manager’s circular does not mention the fact.

In the corporate world, workers are routinely terminated to stop financial hemorrhage. That was exactly what Elon Musk did. He pared down the Twitter workforce from 8,000 to a manageable 1,500 when he acquired the company.

Of course, you can’t do that in the government. Civil service workers, even the most incompetent among them, feel they have proprietary rights over their position. As a British wit remarked, “Government employees are like defective missiles; they don’t work and you can’t fire them.”

The workers cannot be terminated, but the general manager can certainly reshuffle them, “for the exigency of service.” Note that it was what two previous MIAA general managers did without the Ombudsman – Martires or his predecessors – making a fuss about it. The two, Jose Angel Honrado and Eddie Morrel, reshuffled 646 and 397 workers, respectively.

Sitting on other cases

Instead of throwing a monkey wrench into MIAA operations, Martires should shift his attention to the real criminals who are now stealing government funds, not by the millions as they did before, but by tens of billions. There’s the P16-billion frigate anomalous transaction; the P15-billion Philhealth larceny; the pardon-for-sale scheme at the National Penitentiary, and hundreds of other cases of corruption.

He may have bitten more than he could chew. Some 800 airport officers and employees protested the termination of the two MIAA officials, writing in a manifesto that “only now have they [the Airport officers and employees] experienced transparent and honest management in the agency.”

The sentiment reverberates beyond the MIAA confines. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, and all organizations in between, maintain that it is imperative to impose order in an organization composed of thousands of workers with different and oftentimes disparate tasks.

MIAA is only beginning to find its footing after decades of neglect, incompetence, and corruption. All progress that the agency now experiences is being threatened with the unnecessary prosecution (or is it persecution) of the two officials who are doing their utmost best to introduce much-needed reforms there.

Chiong is widely respected in the business world, where honesty and competence are the most valued traits. He was senior finance officer of the Philippine Airlines, a position he held for 15 years, until Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista enticed him to join the government.

There is no denying that  that Ombudsman Martires has upended the lives of Chiong’s and his deputy’s. But even as his reputation is being deplorably, unjustifiably, and ruthlessly shredded, Chiong vows to fight the termination order and clear his name. –

Val A. Villanueva is a veteran business journalist. He was a former business editor of the Philippine Star and the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times. For comments, suggestions email him at

1 comment

Sort by
  1. ET

    Thanks to Val A. Villanueva for pointing out the nature
    of Ombudman’s Samuel Martires decision-making in the
    latter’s dismissal order of two MIAA officials.
    As shown by Mr. Villanueva, there seems to be a
    “bias” in Ombudsman Martires’ handling of the
    cases mentioned in the former’s article. This
    becomes clearer when we associate Ombudsman
    Martires with the authority who appointed him.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!