Mayday! Mayday! In the airport – Thursday, 21 April 2016
Several still-unidentified air traffic controllers in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport are in hot water after daring to hang black protest banners from the control towers of various airports all over the country emblazoned with the words: “Mayday, Mayday.”
Mayday, according to Wikipedia, is the internationally accepted distress signal in radio communications to signify a life-threatening situation, so it not supposed to be used otherwise.
Apart from the NAIA, black banners were similarly unfurled in Davao International Airport, Laoag International Airport, Bacolod International Airport and Naga Airport.
The government’s response was swift, as the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) had the black flags torn down immediately.
CAAP chief Rodante Joya said the term “Mayday” refers to an existing and unfolding emergency, therefore the banners flying from the control tower might end up confusing airline pilots and result in the disruption of international flights at the NAIA.
As told to us, the CAAP legal department is now readying the appropriate charges against those deemed responsible for pulling off the stunt (which was publicized globally on social media) since it heaped a lot of embarrassment and shame on the P-Noy Aquino government, not to mention creating mild havoc in affected air terminals.
Reports said that the banner protest instigated by unnamed ATCs was to highlight total disgust at the action taken by the Commission on Audit (CoA), Governance Commission on Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations and the legislature in disapproving any increase in the salaries and allowances of some 1, 775 CAAP employees.
But the problem here is that the effectivity of the CoA’s disallowance order goes way back to October 2012 – as well as six months’ worth of bonuses in the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 — which means those CAAP employees covered would be compelled to return whatever monies they had gotten.
The salary benefits, sources disclosed, had been earlier granted by way of a CAAP board resolution. But this was thumbed down by the CoA per an Audit Observation Memorandum dated June 1, 2015 which said that approval from the Office of the President must first be secured prior to implementation of the pay increases for the technical personnel.
Based on comparative statistics, Philippine air traffic controllers are the lowest paid in Asean, which is why the CAAP is experiencing such a brain drain.
In Hong Kong, such ATCs receive monthly around $10, 000; Singapore ($8,000); Macau ($5,000); Taiwan ($3,000); Malaysia ($2,500); and South Korea ($2,000).
In the Philippines, the salary of an ATC is a measly $1, 100 monthly.
This is the reason, director Joya admitted, CAAP technical personnel are constantly leaving for abroad where they get paid commensurate to their skills, especially in the Middle East and Africa where there is a robust demand.
If I recall correctly, the last time air traffic controllers loudly complained about salary issues was in the early 1990s when they staged a wildcat strike that stretched to over a week, in the process paralyzing flight activities in the NAIA.
To resolve the issue, the Department of Transportation and Communications was forced to call in temporary replacements from the Philippine Air Force, and also request emergency assistance from its counterparts in Singapore and Hong Kong. Of course it didn’t end nicely for the strike leaders who were promptly served their walking papers by the bosses of the Air Transportation Office (ATO), which the CAAP was formerly called.
This same NAIA tower, where the Mayday banners hung briefly last week, was also used as a protest platform several years ago; but this incident had a bloody outcome.
In November 9, 2003, former ATO chief Panfilo Villaruel forcibly held the tall building for three hours to bring worldwide attention to his lonely campaign against “widespread government corruption.”
Villaruel, together with a confederate, reportedly did not encounter any resistance when he entered the control tower in the wee hours of the morning as he was well-known to on-duty employees. The tower was built during his tenure during the Ramos administration in the 1990s.
Villaruel later died in a hail of bullets after a SWAT team was ordered by Malacañang to storm the vital edifice as his continued presence inside might endanger innocent lives, with flight operations about to commence.
He was being interviewed live on radio dzBB when policemen broke down the steel door and shot him to death.