Name game for the Philippine primary airport is on

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WHAT’S in a name? Well for the 100 million ordinary Filipino mortals like us, there is nothing special about it. They (lawmakers) can put any name whatever they want for the airport as long as people can read it. They are the only body allowed by law to name public places, roads or properties.

For those who don’t know a bit of our history, the name of a place is merely a label so that no one will get lost. There are lawmakers who love to borrow the names of a thing of value or things that are common in the area like towns, cities and barangays of Talisay, Bangkal, Acasia, Pulang Lupa, Laguna, Los Baños and the like.

But there are other places whose names are taken from history, be it an event of great historical value, place of birth or death of someone famous.  The Roxas City in Negros for instance maybe taken from an important member of the Roxas family.  General Santos City was taken from a military official who opened that once verdant space in the Land of Promise.  Our main streets are full of names of old heroes and famous people. 

The historically famous but notoriously congested EDS Avenue is given in memory of Epifanio de los Santos in recognition of Don Panyong’s genius and contributions to the country’s intellectual and artistic heritage.  One theory in a Philippine history book says that the word ‘Malacañang’ was taken from the native’s description of the place along the mighty Pasig river where their chieftain or a “Lakan” lived.  The subjects and guests paying homage to their chieftain would ask the guards in their dialect, “May Lakan Dyan?” (Is the Lakan there?).

Not until after 1986 EDSA people’s power revolution and under the administration of President Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino that the Manila International Airport (MIA) was changed to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).  Former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, husband of President Cory and an arch-enemy of the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, was shot on his head while alighting from his airplane at the tarmac of the MIA in 1983.

Awash of popularity and with the people’s euphoria for a change in leadership, President Cory had no problem of changing anything that her camp wanted especially if it was identified to the Marcoses, including the name of the nation’s primary airport. In this case, a historical event ushered the replacement of the MIA into the NAIA, which is valid in the point of view of the Aquino supporters.  

But change is the only permanent thing in this world, as they say. And history changes as well.  Some house representatives, led by Deputy Speaker and presidential son Representative Paolo “Pulong” Duterte of the First District of Davao City on June 16 filed House Bill No. 7031—which provides for the renaming of the NAIA in Pilipino into the “Paliparang Pandaigdig ng Pilipinas” (Philippine International Airport).  Along with the young Duterte as co-sponsors of the bill were Marinduque Rep. Allan Velasco, and ACT-CIS party-list Representative Eric Yap.

The proponents of the bill explained that the rationale behind the plan to rename NAIA stems from the desire (their desire) “to create new image for the airport, once hailed as one of the worst international terminals in the world.”  After undergoing serious refurbishment under the Duterte administration, NAIA was recognized as 10th most improved airport, according to British-based consultancy Skytrax in a 2018 survey.  They said, “it is high time to rename NAIA so we could finally let go of its negative image…. while not discrediting the heroic contributions of late Senator Aquino.”  They finally said that “Instead of it reflecting just one hero, we want it to reflect our everyday heroes—the Filipino people.”

But their move was not taken lightly by the opposition.  After the measure was posted in social media, the proponents were criticized by ordinary netizens for supposedly thinking of such matters over the ongoing health crisis.  Vice President Leni Robredo and opposition Senator Franklin Drilon said that the move to rename the airport is “ill-timed” because of the country’s ongoing agonizing struggle against Covid-19 pandemic that infected nearly 40,000 Filipinos as of June 30.

Both camps have legitimate arguments either to support or to neglect the proposal but the bottom line is politics.  On the one hand, we have the proponents who are DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters), who, like during the time of Marcos, want to get rid of anything that is associated with the “yellow,” which has undoubtedly become the favorite hue of the opposition.  The yellow color became a well-known political motif starting from the “yellow ribbon” of the August 21 Movement during the time of Marcos, up to the “Otso-Diretso Yellows” of then President Noynoy Aquino.

And we have the “yellow opposition,” who, like the DDS wants to get rid of anything that is Duterte.  Although their wings have been clipped tremendously in both chambers of congress, they are eloquently vocal and their opposition against the excesses and what they call “failures” of the Duterte administration like the war on drugs, the West Philippine Sea issue, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the proposed passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

Who will win or lost in this name game is everyone’s guess.