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Ibalik ang Manila International Airport,Ikakasa na petisyon!

No, this piece isn’t about rescuing soldiers who are missing in action.

It’s about an initiative launched yesterday by the estimable lawyer Larry Gadon to scrap the current name of our premier port of entry, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and restore its previous name, Manila International Airport.

Last year, Larry ran as the lone Senate candidate of the Marcos-era Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), carrying a message that was, predictably, fiercely anti-Aquino. Despite a shoestring campaign budget in the low six figures, he made the top 24, garnering a totally unexpected 2 million votes.

Evidently, the rest of the country was not as yellow as we in Manila had been made to believe.

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Since that time, Larry has acquired a burr in his seat about the NAIA name. He points out that the late Tita Cory rushed the renaming of the airport even before the prescribed 10-year period following her husband’s death.

The facts of Ninoy’s death are well-known (save for the identity of its mastermind, still unaccountably a mystery after not just one, but two Aquino presidencies). But the facts of his life are murkier, before he was thrown into prison in 1972. Specifically, says Larry, three “malfeasances” must still be accounted for:

One, his expose of the so-called Jabidah massacre in 1967, which reportedly infuriated Marcos because it sabotaged his covert operation to reclaim Philippine territory.

Two, his participation in the reestablishment of the local communist party (in December 1968) and the NPA (in March 1969), both of which he hosted somewhere in the vast cane fields of Hacienda Luisita.

Three, his mysterious and very lucky absence from the bombing of the LP proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda in August 1971, despite being the party’s secretary general and front-runner candidate.

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Personally, I’m willing to make a distinction between the pre-martial law Ninoy—a glib and cocky traditional politician whom many people say could have outdone Marcos as president on both the laudable and execrable sides of the ledger—and the post-imprisonment Ninoy, still ambitious but thoroughly chastened by his years behind bars.

Over a long-enough period of time, those troublesome incidents involving “Ninoy 1” may well be cleared up in his favor. Jabidah is receding from memory amid the glow of Malaysia’s activism in brokering the Mindanao peace process. So too might be forgiven Ninoy’s treasonous flirtations with an incipient insurrection, as and if another peace process achieves closure with the now-aging leaders of that insurrection.

Even the Plaza Miranda bombing has long been in the process of being swept under the rug, especially now that its chief victim and inquisitor, the late Senator Jovy Salonga, has passed away. For all we know, witnesses may step forward to certify that Ninoy actually overslept that day, or that his car broke down on the way to the rally, or who knows what else might have happened.

But until the passage of that requisite long enough period of time, the martyrdom of the good Ninoy 2—a narrative assiduously cultivated by his water-bearers—remains compromised by the darker accounts about Ninoy 1. There is not yet the full disclosure of facts that unambiguously allows us today to honor genuine national heroes from an earlier era.

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Regardless of speculations about what might have been or might yet be, there is another and more practical reason to considering restoring our gateway airport to its old name of MIA. In the end, it may boil down simply to the need to rebrand the product.

NAIA reached the nadir of its reputation when it was voted the world’s worst airport, under the administration of Ninoy’s namesake son (which may or may not be coincidental). Air-conditioning that broke down, unusable toilets, roofs that leaked or actually collapsed, and of course the ultimate scandal of laglag-bala—all of these indignities happened on the watch of an airport general manager protected by his previous role as PNoy’s bodyguard.

These problems are now being addressed under the new president, but the stink of the past remains.

In situations like this, rebranding, or repackaging, is a time-honored business solution. Examples abound, but the one I best remember is the renaming of the world’s largest oil company, Esso (short for “Standard Oil”), to “Exxon,” a name literally assembled from scratch.

As Larry’s petition puts it, “the name Manila International Airport is a proud and storied one. It is recognizable worldwide, redolent of history and fragrant with promise for the future…Let us restore the legacy of such a name, enhance our reputation abroad, and promote greater unity here at home.”

I think that most airports around the world simply take the name of their locations, as a practical expedient. In our case, if we push ahead with suggestions for multiple airports around Greater Manila, “MIA” would take its place alongside Clark International Airport to the north and, say, a Sangley or a Batangas International Airport to the south.

The Clark airport itself used to be named after Diosdado Macapagal, who at least was a certified former president and died more than 10 years before the naming. Since it was PNoy who renamed it as Clark, I don’t expect to hear objections from him to a similar renaming of the Manila airport, away from someone who by comparison was just an ex-future president.


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