OTS – To Be Downgraded

The screening of passengers will be returned to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). The powers of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) will soon be watered down.

The OTS, which is tasked to screen all departing passengers at major airports would be scaled-back and reports said it will soon perform oversight functions only.

This is the news that spread at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) this week as all of the international airlines operating in the county held a series of meeting to prepared themselves for the coming transition.

Image Source: Manila Coconuts

The CAAP has jurisdiction over 84 airports in the country, including all major alternate airports. The Miaa, on the other hand, like the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Clark International Airport Authority and Laoag International Airport, has its own mandate.

“We heard that the document demoting the OTS is now at the office of Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DOTC], said a member of the 40-strong Airline Operators Council, who asked not to be named because he is not in a position to speak on the matter.

OTS, the Frankenstein created by Executive Order (EO) 331, is apparently being defanged after a series of tanim and laglag bala incidents at the premier airport. This has raised a hue and cry here and abroad over the mulcting scheme that victimized local and foreign tourists, especially overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The process of downgrading the OTS appears to have been hastened after presumptive President Rodrigo R. Duterte warned its personnel to stop the irregularity, or they will be relieved.

Kayong nasa Naia, ’pag may tanim pa diyan… lahat kayo alis [All of you at NAIA, if there’s still bullet planting there, all of you are out],” he warned in a televised interview in Davao City. “I do not care even if your chief of office or your CO there knows or has nothing to do with it.”

The BusinessMirror tried several times to talk to OTS Spokesman Miguel Oraa to confirm the rumor of the OTS downgrade but he did not return the calls.

Why did it take so long for the OTS to be castigated?

Because it believes it has the mandate, citing EO 331, signed in 2004 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as the fountainhead of its vast powers.

Section 1 of EO 331 says: “The Office for Transportation Security [OTS] is hereby designated as the single authority responsible for the security of the transportation systems of the country, including, but not limited to: (a.) Civil Aviation, (b.) Sea Transport and Maritime Infrastructure; and (c.) Land Transportation, Rail System and Infrastructure.

Such sweeping powers over land, sea and air remained unchallenged. In return, the OTS receives a huge amount of funding that come from the fees collected at airports.

Last year, the office received P636 million, records indicate.

“Tucked into the airport terminal fee is the Aviation Security Fee [ASF]. Out of the P550 for international travel, P60 goes to the ASF, while of the P200 terminal fee for domestic travelers, P15 goes to the ASF,” MIAA Spokesman David de Castro said.

He said that there were roughly eight million international and nine million domestic passengers that flew out of the NAIA in 2015. On the other hand, the ASF is also collected from all flights departing from anywhere in the Philippines, de Castro added.

Data from the MIAA showed the domestic and international passengers reached more than 35 million last year.

Before the OTS, it was the CAAP that does the security checking at all airports in the country. This all changed following the September 11, 2001, (9/11) terrorist attacks on the New York Twin Towers.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the US Congress enacted the Homeland Security Administration Act. Under it, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) came about. It is chiefly concerned with air travel safety. The TSA employs screening agents in airports, armed federal air marshals on planes and mobile teams of dog handlers.

TSA representative Bert Williams came to the country and advised Philippine airport authorities to create a body similar TSA.

“You should have a department with a single authority otherwise we will degrade your airport,” he was quoted as saying by Onie Nakpil, chairman of the Airline Operators Council-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (AOC-ASEAN).

Thus, the OTS was born, tasked to safety-audit all departing passengers at the NAIA, not aware of the conflict it would soon create.

The CAAP, on the other hand, believes that it, having been created by Republic Act (RA) 2427, it stands superior to the OTS that was created by a mere EO.

Section 4 of RA 9497 said: “There is hereby created an independent regulatory body with quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers and possessing corporate attributes to be known as the Caap…attached to the DOTC for the purpose of policy coordination.

Under Section 75 on Police Authority, RA 9497 provides: “The Caap director general shall have the power to exercise such police authority as may be necessary within the premises of airports under its jurisdiction to carry out its functions and attain its purposes and objectives.”

Airline officials have questioned why the OTS, which is under the DOTC, should reign supreme over the Caap, which is an attached agency of the DOTC.

“The Caap is a quasi-judicial and quasilegislative body, created by Congress and existing under the mandate of the International Civil Aviation Organization,” said Caap Deputy Director General Rodante Joya to explain it’s pole position in the hierarchy of airport guardians.

He said he does not want to contest the claims of the OTS but leaves it to the DOTC to decide where to grant the power to screen passengers.

On the other hand, Nakpil, asked whether the money from the Asf that is now being enjoyed by the OTS, should also be given to the Caap and the Miaa if the subsequent transfer occurs. He said the money should be able to provide salaries to employees conducting the screening process.

Nakpil opined that the decision to downgrade the OTS should be left to the incoming administration of president-elect Duterte.

Nakpil said that the OTS should also be reduced to a bureau playing an oversight role, to audit of what is going on regarding the implementation of security at the airports.

He added that all X-ray screening should be put under one agency, so that the finger-pointing would cease.

However, Joya said that oversight function is only enjoyed by government bodies that have regulatory powers.

“OTS does not possess that regulatory power,” he said.

“The DOTC cannot give the OTS oversight powers, it can’t override the law because OTS was created through an EO, signed by the President,” Joya pointed out.

To solve this dilemma, other aviation experts have suggested that Congress should create another law for the OTS to supersede RA 9497.

It was under these conflicting circumstances that OTS had survived.

Whenever something controversial occurs at the screening process, such as the bullet-planting scheme, the OTS does not accept the blame but point to the other agencies around and spread the culpability.

Although criticisms were heaped on it during the height of the tanim-laglag bala controversy, it continues to exist apparently unscathed. The DOTC seems to have clothe the OTS with powers that exceeds or equal those of other agencies created by law.

Duterte probably has the Solomonic decision on what to do with the Ots when he assumes office in July, the airline operators said.

Airport scam

ELEVEN personnel assigned at the Kalibo International Airport (KIA) have been sacked by the Caap after the agency found that they have been involved in a money-milking scam.

Involved in a scam wherein they issued to passengers used terminal-fee tickets that enabled them to pocket cash are terminal fee inspectors Daniva Acosta and Shane Alejandro; as well as terminal fee collectors Shiela Oirada, Cherry Peralta, Jojean Conanan, Precious Fernandez, Gerry Revister, Maria Briones, Andy Mel Jones Concepcion and Jovert Alejandro; and Flight Data Encoder Shamar Glenn Mabasa.

Caap Director General William K. Hotchkiss III said the investigation was headed by Joya, who also heads the agency’s Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) Department.

The sacked employees, apparently, were “recycling terminal- fee tickets for several months or possibly years, taking away a substantial amount of earnings from the airport.”

In Kalibo the terminal fee for a domestic flight costs P200, while a passenger is charged P750 for international travel.

“A show-cause order has been issued to the regular employee who works as a terminal-fee collector at the airport,” Caap Deputy Director General for Administration Artemio Orozco said.

Orozco said the CSIS has, so far, only found proof that the members of the group, removed from the agency, were involved in the scam in January and February this year.

He noted that the CSIS is probing deeper to determine how long the modus operandi has been going on at the KIA.

“We cannot yet say how much of the airport’s earnings this group has taken through their scam of basically recycling terminal fee tickets until the CSIS concludes its investigation into how long the group has been involved in the modus,” Orozco said.

Source: Recto Mercene, http://www.businessmirror.com.ph


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