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Unfair air practices

Sources told us the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates are scheduled to hold fresh talks this Aug. 27 specifically to discuss Emirates’ bid to increase its existing 21 flights per week. Local carriers Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines had voiced their protest, saying there should no fresh talks until all available entitlements have been fully utilized by the local carriers. Earlier, Emirates Airline was fined for operating an unauthorized third daily flight and selling tickets without approval after its code sharing agreement with Philippine Airlines ended in January this year

Carriers in countries like the US, France and Germany had also been complaining against the Gulf carrier, calling for a review of existing air agreements, pointing out the carrier has an unfair trade advantage due to the huge state subsidies it receives. Just recently, Delta, United and American Airlines submitted documents alleging Emirates has become a threat to the viability of the airline industry in the United States as the carrier has been exploiting the existing open skies agreements that date back to the 1990s, adding Emirates has been getting unfair advantage from the $42 billion subsidy it has reportedly been getting. The US airlines said the subsidies have enabled the Gulf carrier to “violate” the spirit of the open skies agreements with the US.

Local airline industry observers noted opening up the talks would put the local carriers at a great disadvantage, with some even wondering why Malacañang seems to be so eager to initiate fresh talks, even reportedly sending Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa himself during “exploratory” talks. Earlier in May, the Philippines and Qatar signed a new memorandum of understanding increasing the number of flight frequencies per week to 14 or an increase of six, something that industry observers said was more acceptable since the additional number of frequency granted to Qatar was “a small increment.” Cebu Pacific has also started new direct flights to Doha in June. Qatar is also pragmatically eyeing a partnership with Philippine Air Lines or even Cebu Pacific.

While people welcome healthy competition and agree with the open skies policy, many are convinced that agreements should not be in violation of existing laws and certainly not at the expense of local carriers, in particular the Philippine Airlines which has been around for a very long time. In fact, PAL has become a source of pride for many Filipinos because of its history as the oldest carrier in Asia – even described as a “strategic asset” by the Department of Tourism during PAL’s inaugural flight to New York in March. Many have also come to regard the carrier as a national treasure for having been a part of many Filipinos’ lives.

PAL has had a lot of rough patches and gone through bumps in its 74-year history but we have to give full credit to Lucio Tan for being steadfast. Many can still remember the time when the Asian financial crisis almost brought the airline crashing down but “El Kapitan” Lucio did not allow it to happen – saying that because PAL is the Philippines and the Philippines is PAL, “I cannot let them go down.” It was clear to El Kapitan the two are one and stand for the same thing – our pride and honor as a country. This is why despite great business risk, Tan has kept the airline afloat even when people were telling him he was “crazy” to keep the flag carrier – but in his mind – he loves PAL and what it means to the Philippines.

PAL, which is approaching its 75th year, is regarded by many as a national treasure.  We are confident CAB executive director Carmelo Arcilla will be very objective. He totally understands the importance of taking care of our own carriers.

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Art Macapagal – a gentleman and friend

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column titled “Who is Arthur Macapagal?” precisely because not too many people were aware of the man who was the older half brother of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Art, as his friends called him, was a very low-key person who, along with his gracious wife Mariter Jalandoni, was very well-liked because he was so unassuming and never took advantage of his relationship with then-president Arroyo. He never talked about the fact that he was the son and the brother of presidents, and during his sister’s term, he never went to Malacañang unless he was invited. 

Friends of Arthur knew him as a savvy businessman and a sports enthusiast – an Olympian in fact who represented the country in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He was a sharpshooter and held the national record in Olympic free pistol for more than two decades, and was the Philippine Sportswriters Association’s All-Around Filipino Sports Awardee in 1973 and 1974.

Over the years, we have come to know him well and it saddened us to hear about his passing last Tuesday. Art will be missed by many of us who knew him.

Enrile: One year in detention

One of the close friends of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile informed us about the recent Supreme Court decision granting his petition to be provided a Bill of Particulars so he would be able to properly address the charges that have been lodged against him. However, the same source said he is surprised why the SC has not acted on the 91-year-old legislator’s petition for bail since the ruling on the bill of particulars indicates that there is room for bail. We think the Sandiganbayan should move fairly quickly for Enrile – now in frail health. Besides, there is absolutely no risk for him to jump bail. Surely, there is room for consideration for a man who played a major role in our country’s history.

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