ARMED police patrolled at Manila’s international airport in the aftermath of the killing by U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan of wanted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Was this the reason for the overly long immigration inspection line at the NAIA arrival and departure areas in the last few days?

“No sir,” a uniformed lady manning a line politely replied.

“We’re just short of immigration inspectors.”

True enough one of only five desks was empty even as the queue was crawling at a snail’s pace.

The wait to reach the end of the line for processing of passports and other documents took nearly an hour, give or take a few ticks.

It would have been somewhat tolerable if the insufficient air-conditioning was working.

What a shame.

All over Asia, the international airports are gleaming, their security and immigration lines moving in rapid precision, to the delight of harried and tired international travellers.

We do have a new Ninoy Aquino International Airport but it’s tied up in endless litigations.

President Noynoy, you have got a problem.

How can we lure tourists if our showcase airport is idle and the one being used is third world, third rate and a virtual aerial museum piece.

The government must flex its muscle to have NAIA 3 fully functioning.

It has dragged its feet for far too long.

Where, oh where, is the $14.50 (Php750) terminal fee going to?

The very few food kiosks for departing passengers have fewer seats to boot.

What happens is you buy your food (snacks, really) but the few seats in the waiting are as almost always full themselves.

Fine dining?

Are you kidding?

Indeed there is a private airport lounge but you have to pay to get in before you can be served.

But there’s a silver lining.

The bathrooms, or CRs as the locals call them, are surprisingly cleaner this time, with running water, and toilet paper.

We hope this is a harbinger of better things to come — starting with a better airport at par with Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Shanghai or even Vietnam.

The airport is the face of the nation.

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