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Not ready to host APEC

I know we should be hospitable to our guests. DFA is confident all 21 heads of state of APEC countries will be in Manila.  

But the disruption to our economy and our lives is enormous. Classes are suspended in Metro Manila for four days. There will officially be no work in government offices for four days too. And Malacañang ordered work suspended for two days in the private sector. There goes productivity.

There will be a lot of road closures. Even EDSA from Roxas Boulevard to Shaw Boulevard will be closed without notice, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras told ANC.

Worse, about a thousand flights are expected to be cancelled with the airlines already announcing over 500 domestic and international flights cancelled. All those idle planes and airline staff will surely adversely impact on travelers as well as the bottom line of businesses.

The more horrible part is the high handed manner by which Malacañang is stranding thousands of travelers, some of whom may actually have an urgent need to fly. No one bothered to offer options, like using Clark for some, if not most, of those flights.

Here is how one of my readers viewed this unwarranted disruption of our lives:

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“Don’t they realize other people, aside from those involved with APEC, have lives and commitments too? Their solution has been to allow rebooking without rebooking fees. What about the unrebookable/unrefundable onward/inward foreign flights + the hotel bookings?

“What if the OFW or tourist traveling had planned months earlier and gotten their leaves? If they are already in the country and can’t get back to work on time, who gives them a new job if they get terminated?

“If we couldn’t properly handle an APEC meeting in Manila, why insist on having it here?

“Just say we can’t host because we are unprepared and incapable right at the onset.

“Is the problem because we have incompetent people in government or do some people intentionally want to make the government look bad because they are working for the opposition?” 

Clark officials admit they are not ready to handle all the cancelled flights because it has a rather small passenger terminal. Delay in putting up a larger terminal is the fault of DOTC which had been studying the matter since the time when Mar Roxas was at its helm. I think they got a NEDA clearance recently but that only means it could be beyond P-Noy’s term before they actually bid the project out.

Limited as Clark’s current capacity is, Dino Tanjuatco who heads the airport facility told me they can handle 300 arriving passengers an hour and 700 for departures. They have enough vacant slots during the daytime hours and late into the night. The only real limitation, he said, is adequate manpower for Customs, Immigration and Quarantine. I suppose this is something Malacañang can handle easily.

So why wasn’t Clark offered as an alternative airport instead of cancelling all those flights? I guess it is easier to just cancel the flights.

The airlines are claiming Clark cannot service their needs with its limited infrastructure. The airlines will also have to move in manpower and equipment to Clark, something they are probably not keen on doing.

But the airline business is supposed to be public service oriented (it has a franchise) and both government and airlines must go out of their way to minimize the inconvenience of that APEC meeting on the people and our economy. Isn’t it ironic that an international conference that is supposed to boost economies is causing damage to ours, the host country?

I don’t recall our having to cancel that many flights when we last hosted the APEC conference during FVR’s watch. Not only that… private sector work in Metro Manila is now being stopped too. I don’t think other APEC countries have hoisted such dramatic inconveniences on their people when they hosted an APEC conference.

It isn’t as if we were not given enough time to prepare. The member countries take turns and we can determine our turn way in advance. It seems the organizing committees only concentrated on the obvious requirements of sites, agenda, accommodations and security.

They should have anticipated the need to do something about the limited capacity of NAIA that will make flight cancellations necessary. If they did, they could have worked out a better approach with the airlines than outright flight cancellations.

Indeed, the reason we do not seem to be all that ready for APEC is because transport infrastructure in Metro Manila deteriorated badly during the Aquino watch. Traffic jams on our roads and in the air are horrendous and it is understandable why Malacanang wants to make our important guests feel things seem better than they really are.

Given this untenable infra situation in Manila, they could have planned early on to hold APEC in Clark. All those heads of state can use the Clark airport with the minimum of disturbance to Metro Manila businesses and the local aviation industry. Clark is easier to secure too than crowded Metro Manila.

They could have had more than enough time to put up a respectable convention center in Clark, a good infra investment in itself. Remember Imelda built that PICC and a number of hotels in record time for a meeting of the World Bank/IMF, so it can be done.

If FVR could get away with holding the last APEC conference we hosted in Subic, surely hosting it in Clark could have been possible. Or have the entire thing in Iloilo with its new convention center and new hotels ready. But of course, what can we expect from unimaginative bureaucrats with limited cranial capacity.

The forced holiday on schools and the private businesses will have a drastic impact on daily wage workers. Never mind the government offices since there is little work done there anyway. But for the rest of us who do honest work, this imposition is too much.

I wonder if the honor of hosting APEC is worth it for a country like ours that is struggling with a lot of issues. The cost of hosting the meeting is significant as are the disruption costs on private businesses. Add the cost to those who are unable to travel during the period and we can say this APEC meeting is a real burden to the country.

But leaders of governments love these fancy events to tickle their egos. Hosting the Olympics started the downward spiral of the Greek economy some years ago. They had to borrow heavily to build sports infra that are now idle. Brazil is suffering already even before the Olympics begin.

It would be a really sensitive and sensible government that can decline the hosting responsibility on the ground that there are more urgent things on the country’s agenda related to its people’s welfare. Besides, what really tangible benefits can we expect from APEC?

Tourism? I doubt it with our lousy airports. New investors? Not before we liberalize our investment rules and improve ease of doing business.

APEC itself is a mess. Its members have divided themselves into a pro-American TPP block and the Chinese led New Silk Road initiatives. Since the time I covered the first APEC meeting in Seattle, and that was over two decades ago, APEC had only been an expensive talkfest and junket at the expense of taxpayers.

Other than the APEC card which some businessmen are able to use to breeze through immigration, what has APEC delivered that’s honestly significant?  

It is also embarrassing that while half of APEC had been invited to join TPP, the host government was not. And we are at odds with China enough to snub their invitation for us to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. APEC has failed to live up to its promise and name – cooperation.

Next time we host APEC, our government should take all the time to do things right not just for delegates but for Filipinos.

Tanim bala

The order of P-Noy to DOTC Sec Abaya to investigate tanim bala is a cop-out because nothing will happen.

Abaya is inclined to absolve his subordinates. Remember how after a supposed DOTC investigation, he absolved his minions in that MRT 3 maintenance contract deal? Luckily, the Ombudsman thought otherwise.

P-Noy should order a top to bottom relief of the PNP detachment at NAIA. Send everyone there to fight real battles in Basilan and Sulu. Have a brand new group assigned to NAIA, preferably fresh graduates from the PNP Academy.

As for Abaya’s Office for Transportation Security, best to abolish the group and leave airport security to just one authority: the PNP. I sensed some finger pointing among the many security agencies because there is no single point of responsibility. Par for the course in this administration!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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