By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Despite his apologies, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Wednesday said the government did its best to respond to the runway mishap at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) two weeks ago.
Appearing at the Senate Committee on Public Services’ inquiry on the accident involving the Xiamen Air flight MF8667 that went off a NAIA Terminal 1 runway last August 16, Tugade apologized anew to the passengers affected by the incident.
“Allow me to express my sincerest apology. It was a regrettable incident that is not of our own liking as it is not of own making. I am deeply sorry for the inconveniences caused by the incident,” the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said in his opening remarks.
He, however, maintained that the concerned government agencies were not remiss in responding to the incident, particularly, in recovering the disabled plane as soon as possible.
“We can look you in the eye and tell you that we did what has to be done. We did our best given the circumstances. Could we have done better? Sure. But did we do our job? Yes,” the transport chief told the Senate panel.
Tugade said this as he acknowledged calls for their resignation following the incident which caused the cancellation of several flights and left thousands of passengers stranded at the airport. He said they refused to be distracted by pressure.
“Hindi kami nawalan ng direksyon, diskarte at focus. Iyan ang dahilan kung bakit ‘di kami nataranta. Ginawa namin ang aming trabaho (We did not lose direction, strategy and focus. That’s the reason why we did not give in to pressure. We did our job),” he reiterated.
Tugade also defended the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and its General Manager Ed Monreal, for the recovery operations that took 36 hours.
He said they had to be careful in removing the Boeing 737-800 aircraft from the runway to prevent further damages. The plane was loaded four tons of unused fuel, he said. “One wrong move, the entire thing will explode,” Tugade said.
He also cited the “muddy terrain and strong wind,” slowed them down. He added they also had to pause and consider their workers’ safety when red lightning alerts were raised.
“It took us 36 hours. I won’t say that was fast enough, but I’d say it was a reasonable time given the circumstances,” Tugade said.
“We are not trying to justify what happened, it was an accident that no one wanted. We responded as fast as we could, we tried to minimize inconveniences the way we could,” he added.
Tugade said the MIAA had followed its manual on recovering the Xiamen plane, particularly, in employing a third party contractor to lift it.
Tugade, citing the MIAA manual, said they had to be in charge of the recovery since Xiamen Airlines, being a foreign company, has limited resources to respond to the accident. He maintained that the NAIA is not lacking in equipment based on international standards.
Monreal, in the hearing, clarified it did not take long to remove the Xiamen plane, but the “mobilization” of the crane used for its recovery. He said the crane took about three hours to be built.
He said they were also faced by another problem when the plane’s fuel pump, to supposedly unload its fuel, malfunctioned. It took three more hours for the defuelling tank from a private company to arrive at the airport, he said.
Tugade, for his part, admitted that he did not go to the airport since the runway accident to supposedly prevent distraction. He, however, said he was “on top” of the issue while made calls during the 36-hour operation.