NEWSFLASH!! NAIA TOWER TAKEOVER FOILED

[PHOTO AT LEFT: AIRPORT CONTROL TOWER TAKEOVER. The body of former Air Transport Office chief Capt. Panfilo Villaruel (right photo) is carried to a van of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory for autopsy at Camp Crame, after he and another man were gunned down by responding aviation security men. The two had earlier taken over the control tower of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (left photo). (Louie Perez)]

NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, November 9, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Anjo Perez, Louie Perez, & Ronniel De Guzman - Ex-ATO official, Navy officer shot dead by SWAT team...

A major disruption in the country's air traffic control system was averted yesterday morning after special forces from the PNP Aviation Security Group shot dead a former top Air Transportation Office (ATO) official and a Navy lieutenant who seized the control tower at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Centennial Terminal 2 in Manila early yesterday morning.

Former Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Assistant Secretary assigned to the Air Transportation Office (ATO) Panfilo Villaruel Jr. and Navy Lt. Senior Grade Ricardo Catchiller were killed when a 10-man counter-terrorist team led by Senior Supt. Andres Caro II, director of the PNP-Aviation Security Group (ASG) stormed the 12-story control tower at around 3 a.m. ending a 3-hour stand-off.

(See related story on Page 4, another photo on Page 20.)

"We decided to act swiftly to retake the tower after all negotiations bogged down in order to avert a possible deadly catastrophe involving airline passengers should Villaruel and his accomplice continue to take over the vital facility," Caro said.

Airport General Manager Edgar Manda said Villaruel, a 62-year-old air force and commercial airline pilot, had made "incoherent" statements to the radio stations after taking over the tower and banishing six on-duty air traffic controllers, including two women.

Shortly before midnight last Friday, Villaruel and Catchiller took command of the eight-story Manila Control Tower adjacent to the NAIA Centennial Terminal.

Reportedly armed with a .45 caliber and 9 mm handguns, the two ordered the people manning the control tower to evacuate the highly restricted area.

Upon hearing of the takeover, NAIA Assistant General Manager for Emergency and Security Services Gen. Angel Atutubo, together with PNP Aviation Security Group chief Col. Andres Caro II contacted Villaruel and tried to work out a solution to the crisis.

A team from Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) was dispatched to the control tower, prepared for any eventuality.

"Our plans to negotiate with them did not materialize, so we were forced to dispatch a 10-man SWAT team to the tower," Atutubo said.

"Shortly before 3 in the morning, all forms of communications inside the tower were cut off by Villaruel, so we were forced to act accordingly. We did not want anything bad to happen with the flights that were to start coming in at 5 a.m., so we decided to put an end to the event."

At around 3:15 a.m., a loud explosion was heard in the control tower, followed by several gunshots.

After an hour, General Atutubo announced that Villaruel and Gachelier had been killed by members of the SWAT in a brief gunfight.

Later in the morning, the bodies of the two were taken to Camp Crame in Quezon City for autopsy.

Villaruel was assistant secretary of the DILG during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos.

According to reports, both Villaruel and Gachelier were able to gain access into the highly restricted area with a written authority from ATO chief Nilo Jatico, in response to a request from the former for permission to do some research work.

Aside from an incoming PAL flight from Vancouver, Canada, whose pilot decided to divert the flight to Cebu, all flight operations in both domestic and international terminals remained normal.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement issued later that she was glad the incident was over and that "the nature, course, and magnitude (of the incident) was not an attempt to take over the government."

Two of the country's biggestt networks extended their programming schedules to allow viewers a first- hand account of the airport drama while passengers and well-wishers at the PAL domestic and international terminals were alarmed by the distant sound of gunfire.

GMA Network News DZBB carried a live interview with Villaruel just before he was shot dead by police.

"We surrender . . . We surrender," Villaruel said as the while assault squad blasted the heavy door leading to the control deck on the top floor of the tower and shot at the duo. "We are being murdered here, my friend," Villareal was heard as saying.

Sporadic exchanges of gunfire and at least one loud explosion was heard, followed by what appeared to be groans and strained breathing.

Several minutes after the police had retaken the facility, Manda declared that airport operations had returned to normal and that the airport was expecting its first international flight for the day.

Authorities recovered two MK2 fragmentation grenades, a Jericho .9 mm pistol, a Remington .45 caliber pistol, 1/4 pound of TNT, and several meters of detonating cords, reportedly enough to blow up the ring-shaped observation deck of the tower.

Glass panels in the tower's observation deck, were shattered during the gun battle.

Before his death, the 62-year-old top aviation regulator revealed in an interview with broadcaster Arnold Clavio on GMA Network radio dzBB that he was fed up with too much politics and corruption. "We are not terrorists," Villaruel said.

Villaruel who was a member of Philippine Air Force (PAF) Flying School Class 1962 spoke about alleged widespread corruption in government, and condemned a government decision which, he claimed, had mothballed a plane and helicopter design program he had initiated.

During his stint as director of the Philippine Aviation Development Corp. (PADC), a government-owned corporation, Villaruel designed the Defiant 300 model light plane made of wood and the Hummingbird to show the government that the country can produce an aircraft with the use of local materials.

Manda said the former ATO official and his companion formally requested airport authorities as early as three days ago to issue him security access to gain entry into the control tower to gather data regarding a research he was conducting.

Villaruel and Catchiller arrived at the control tower at around 8 a.m. on board the formers' chauffeur-driven car and was promptly buzzed in by a security personnel inside the tower.

On duty traffic controllers, most of whom hadworked under Villaruel, said they engaged their former chief in a conversation n various topics ranging from the personal to problems regarding aviation and the government.

Danilo Sablan, Villaruel's driver, told the police that he was even asked by his boss to buy food to be brought up to them and several on-duty air traffic controllers.

It was when Villaruel floated the idea of taking-over the tower to protest government corruption that made most of them edgy and they reported the matter to the authorities.

They said Villaruel, a former assistant secretary of the transportation department between 1992-1998 under the Fidel Ramos presidency looked depressed.

Villaruel condemned a government decision that halted a plane and helicopter design program he had intiated. "We are not terrorists," he said.

"I am the representative of 82 million Filipinos who are crying for help," he added. "I am ready to offer my life."

Villaruel did not cite any specific case of corruption, saying, "You only have to read the papers."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and the Manila airport general manager Edgardo Manda both later described the ex-official's comments as "incoherent."

No power grab

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday downplayed concerns the short-lived assault on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 control tower was part of an attempt to grab power but still ordered heightened security nationwide as a precaution.

Appearing on national television hours after the police shot dead the two gunmen, including a former top aviation official, to end a dramatic early morning siege, the President assured the nation that the Manila airport is now "safe and sound" and that her government is on top of the situation.

The speedy resolution of the crisis showed the Philippines was "disaster and terrorist-ready," Arroyo said in a later speech in Cebu City.

She said flights were operating normally, all airport services continue uninterrupted, and alternate control tower facilities have been established.

"The nature, course, and magnitude of the incident show that is not an attempt to take over the government," Arroyo said, who looked composed but tired after being awake nearly all night monitoring the incident from Malacaņang.

Accompanied by Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, the President appeared at the Kalayaan Hall briefing room at around 7:20 a.m. and delivered a statement announcing the resolution of the three-hour standoff.

She praised the police for acting firmly according to stablished contingency procedures "to protect our national security."

Mrs. Arroyo, who survived a military rebellion last July, said the latest assault on the government's vital installation appeared to be an "isolated incident" and motivated by "personal reasons." (Genalyn D. Kabiling)

Basa Air Base

BASA AIR FORCE BASE, Floridablanca, Pampanga - Old timers at this base of the 5th Fighter Wing of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) recalled today how the late former Undersecretary for Air Transportation Panfilo Villaruel as a young PAF captain and jet pilot was assigned in this base in the mid-1960s.

Theysaid that the then Captain Villaruel was a young idealistic pilot who resigned his commission as a captain before retirement and joined the Philippine Airlines (PAL) as a commercial pilot in 1965. Captain Villaruel had two sons in the PAF who are both jet pilots and graduates of the PMA.

The two are, Britch Villaruel who belongs to PMA class '90 is also retired as a captain of PAF in 1999 and is now a PAL pilot just like his late father, before his appointment as DoTC undersecretary for air transportation.

Another son, Capt. Paul Michael Villaruel, also a jet pilot, was assigned at this base in 1994 until 2001. He belongs to PMA Class 92, and is also reported to retire soon to join the PAL.

Old timers here at this base have nothing but good words for the late Captain Villaruel. (Romy Medina)

Necessary

Transportation and Communication Secretary Leandro Mendoza said yesterday that the assault operation at the NAIA control tower was necessary since the tower is the heart of the aviation operation in any airport.

"He who controls the tower, controls the flights, the landing, the taking off of an aircraft, within the NAIA complex," Mendoza said.

Mendoza also allayed fears that the incident was part of a destabilization campaign or of a conspiracy to grab power similar to the July 27 failed Oakwood mutiny in Makati City.

"Based on our initial information, we concluded that this is an isolated case, that this is nothing but a police operation to arrest an armed intruder, sitting in a very critical infrastructure," Mendoza said.

Mendoza said that there was a need for swift action since the intruders were armed and had barricaded themselves inside the control tower.

The arresting officers, Mendoza said, had to use plastic bombs to gain entry into the barricaded steel door that leads to the control tower.

He said that when the door was finally blasted, the arresting officers were met with a volley of shots. "Ang sumalubong sa kanila ay putok na, kaya putukan na (What met them were shots, so there was an exchange of fire)," Mendoza said.

Mendoza also belied earlier claims made by some broadcasters that the intruders shouted that they were willing to surrender. He said the arresting officers did not hear any such shouts, prompting them to blast the door.

Lawmakers

Lawmakers lauded yesterday the Arroyo administration's swift action on the NAIA 2 control tower takeover early this morning describing it as an isolated case which should not be mistaken as a sign of a coup in the making and urged the public not to be unduly alarmed by rumored destabilization plots.

Led by Lakas Reps. Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur), Rodolfo Albano (Isabela), Robert "Ace" Barbers (Surigao del Norte), Robert Durano (Davao City), Prospero Nograles (Davao City), Edwin Uy (Isabela), Monico Puentevella (Bacolod City), Aurelio Umali (Nueva Ecija), Eduardo Veloso (Leyte), Gerry Espina (Biliran) and Independent Rep. Wilfrido Villarama (Bulacan), the solons agreed the administration's swift ending to the NAIA takeover should serve as a deterrent to similar incidents.

Pichay, chairman of the House national defense committee, said the airport incident was not related to any major destabilization attempt as it involved emotionally-disturbed persons.

Pichay also called on the armed forces for all its units to tighten their security in line with their Constitutional duty to protect the nation from all forms of destabilization.

Amid coup rumors, Pichay called on his colleagues in Congress to help resolve immediately the impeachment crisis as this is being exploited for destabilization. "I appeal on my colleagues to help resolve the issue to ease the crisis and for all these destabilization talks to end ."

Villarama urged the people to keep their faith in the government as he called for the people to unite and resist the use of violence as the impeachment case is in course of being resolved. He also called on government officials to be responsible and heed the voice of the people who want an immediate end to the impeachment crisis.

Albano said NAIA incident displayed the administration's resoluteness as he dismissed it as a part of destabilization plot against the government.

Albano said everything is in fact quiet in so far as Region 2 is considered as the heads of military and police organizations there have reaffirmed their loyalty to the government. In a ceremony today at Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Isabela, Albano said Maj. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, commander of the 5th Infantry Division and Col. Agripino Lopez, Head of the PNP Intelligence Service, vowed they will not join any coup attempt against the government.

Durano, Nograles, Puentevella, Barbers, chairmen respectively of the House committee on public order and security, committee on housing and urban development, committee on youth and sports development, and committee on accounts, Espina, Uy, Umali, Espina, Veloso and Barbers agreed the NAIA incident is again proof that the government is capable of thwarting threats against it as it has successfully shown in the Oakwood mutiny.

Back to normal

All travelers using the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) are safe and flight operations are back to full and normal status after police authorities overcame two suspects who had forcibly taken over the Control Tower of the NAIA II, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. The Secretary also said that this was an isolated incident to which the police authorities had responded in a swift and decisive manner and for which the authorities should be commended.

"I would like to assure the members of the international community and our Filipinos overseas who may have friends or relatives traveling to the Philippines that all travelers are safe and flight operations have returned to normal," Secretary Ople said.

The secretary said that he would also like to extend this assurance in terms of the overall security situation in the Philippines. "This is an isolated incident. There are no other activities or reports that should give rise to any security or stability concerns. There is no disruption of any public or private services. Countries and private individuals who have specific interests in the Philippines need not be alarmed and should continue with their usual activities." Secretary Ople said.

"Our authorities responded in a swift and decisive manner, overcame the suspects and prevented the loss of innocent life and the disruption of critical services. Our authorities are to be commended for their actions," the secretary added. (David Cagahastian)

Lina

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose D. Lina yesteday commended the Philippine National Police's Aviation Security Group (PNP-ASG) for its decisive move to immediately resolve the two-hour crisis at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

In his weekly radio program "Sagot Ko Yan," Lina personally congratulated PNP-ASG director Sr. Supt. Andres G. Caro II and his men for the immediate recovery of the Air Transportation Office (ATO) control tower.

Lina also directed the PNP ASG to closely coordinate with the airport security under the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) in compliance with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's directive to tighten security at the airport. (Rico C. Navarro)

Pimentel

Sen. Aquiliono Q. Pimentel Jr., (PDP-Laban) yesterday urged Malacaņang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to thoroughly investigate and determine whether the attempt of Col. (retired) Panfilo Villaruel, former chief of the Ari Transportation Office (ATO) and his companion to control the Ninoy Aquino International Airport-2 was part of a plot to seize political power.

Pimentel said it is important to find out whether Villaruel acted in concert with other people or with a group whose aim is to destabilize the government.

He said it is reassuring for the nation to hear from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that there is no indication that there is an organized conspiracy to take over the government.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

© Copyright, 2003  by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE