May 19, 2004  (STAR) By Sandy Araneta  -  Finally, the government will be upgrading toilets at the nation’s premier airport. But will taxpayers be willing to foot the P800-million bill?

Airport officials announced yesterday plans to improve services at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), including the upgrading of 50 toilets in the old Terminal I at an initial cost of P200 million.

The final tab for toilet and sewage repair: P800 million.

In addition, NAIA management will stop issuing access passes to senators, congressmen and their staff, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Edgardo Manda announced in his first press conference after a three-month absence from the airport to help in President Arroyo’s campaign.

NAIA toilets have long been the subject of criticism. Lacking water and toilet paper, their ceilings sometimes leaking, the toilets are often compared with squeaky-clean, state-of-the-art facilities in other countries such as Japan, where airport toilets have heated seats, bidets and gurgling noise that mask unpleasant sounds when women’s lavatories are in use.

"We finally made the decision to continue repair works in Terminal 1, starting with the toilets. We will do some face-lifting on the facade of Terminal 1 in order to improve the appearance and make it passenger-friendly," Manda said.

But the changes won’t come cheap.

Marcelino Yumul, MIAA assistant general manager for finance and administration, put the cost of the sewage repair at P800 million, of which P200 million will be allotted for the repair of some 50 toilets.

Because of damage to the sewage system, toilet bowls at the fourth floor of Terminal 1 cannot be flushed automatically and janitors have to fetch water to pour into the toilet bowls.

Also targeted for repair is the roofing and air-conditioning system.

Manda said the repairs are in line with the MIAA’s overall plans to construct better public areas for Filipinos to welcome or see off their loved ones.

He noted that an average of 3,000 OFWs depart from the airport everyday.

"We cannot ignore the welcomers and greeters. The fact that the Terminal 1 departure area is so small, we should do something about that," he said.

The repair on Terminal 1 is seen as a stopgap measure until the much-awaited opening of the controversy-ridden NAIA Terminal 3.

"We are back to making structural changes. The reforms we wanted to do, we hope to do it very soon. The opening of NAIA Terminal 3 will possibly be in two year’s time," Manda said.

In another development, Manda announced that he is stopping the issuance of access cards to senators, congressmen and their staff

Manda said the measure was being adopted "mainly to decongest the terminals" as well as to improve security.

"We are currently issuing more than two access cards for each of these lawmakers. Even their aides and security members are being issued access cards," Manda said.

In lieu of the cards, Manda said, the MIAA will form teams to assist departing lawmakers and other VIPs.

"We will probably have a group who will do VIP assistance for government people and non-government people," he said.

The plan calls for the creation of an MIAA public affairs staff to take care of the VIPs.

For each terminal, three teams of five people each will be rotated on a 24-hour shift. For the present two terminals of the NAIA, this translates to a 30-member staff.

Manda said that access cards will still be issued for employees of foreign embassies.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved